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Shabazz v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

August 2, 2018



          James R. Knepp, II Magistrate Judge


         Plaintiff Bilal Shabazz (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint against the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to deny disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). (Doc. 1). The district court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1383(c) and 405(g). The parties consented to the undersigned's exercise of jurisdiction in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Civil Rule 73. (Doc. 4). For the reasons stated below, the undersigned affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed for DIB and SSI on December 20, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of October 2, 2008. (Tr. 205-17). His claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 141-56, 160-71). Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 172-74). Plaintiff (represented by counsel), and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified at a hearing before the ALJ on December 8, 2015. (Tr. 32-77). On February 3, 2016 the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled in a written decision. (Tr. 12-26). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the hearing decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-5); see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955, 404.981, 416.1455, 416.1481. Plaintiff timely filed the instant action on March 14, 2017. (Doc. 1).

         Factual Background[1]

         Personal Background and Testimony

         Plaintiff was born on July 6, 1964, was 44 at his alleged onset date, and was 51 at the time of the hearing. (Tr. 24, 80). He had a high school education and previously worked as a machine feeder, which is medium, unskilled work. (Tr. 39-40, 62, 254-55). Plaintiff claimed he became disabled in October 2008. (Tr. 211).

         Plaintiff testified he could not keep a job because of verbal and physical altercations with supervisors and coworkers. (Tr. 40, 58). He carried a utility knife or an ice pick, prompted by increased anger and irritability toward people. (Tr. 40-41). He felt ready to “snap at any moment”, and kept the knife with him “just to slash somebody's neck . . . or just rip their midsections so their intestines are falling out.” (Tr. 41). One prior job ended when he broke a coworker's nose, and another ended for punching someone in the mouth. Id. Plaintiff could cook, clean, do laundry, and go shopping. (Tr. 46-49). He did not have friends, did not socialize, and testified to getting confrontational with a neighbor who knocked on his door. (Tr. 48). To avoid violent confrontations, Plaintiff said he kept to himself. (Tr. 55-56). Plaintiff's prescribed medication reduced his angry flare-ups, but also left him heavily sedated. (Tr. 60-61).

         Relevant Medical Evidence

         No relevant medical evidence exists from the alleged onset date until December 2013, when Plaintiff saw Neal Goldenberg, M.D., of Frontline Services for mental health issues. (Tr. 405-06). Plaintiff told Dr. Goldenberg he had problems with his temper, and would smash and break things when frustrated. (Tr. 405). Dr. Goldenberg noted a twenty-year history of homelessness, including a ban at a homeless shelter because of a confrontation with a staff member, along with repeated difficulties holding a job due to Plaintiff's inability to accept criticism. Id. He isolated himself, and Dr. Goldenberg described him as irritable. Id. Plaintiff reported daily bouts of depression, along with passive suicidal ideation, but had no history of attempts nor a plan to attempt suicide. Id. Plaintiff came to the evaluation appropriately groomed, fully oriented, and had a normal stream of conversation with reality-based thoughts. (Tr. 406). His memory was intact, and Plaintiff denied any hallucinations. Id. His capacity for abstract thinking was intact. Id. Dr. Goldenberg diagnosed Plaintiff with Intermittent Explosive Disorder and Chronic Adjustment Disorder with mixed depression and anxiety. Id. Plaintiff was prescribed Citalopram and Hydroxyzine, with the recommendation that he participate in therapy, counseling, and anger management. Id.

         In October 2014, Plaintiff again visited Dr. Goldenberg. During the examination, Plaintiff told Dr. Goldenberg his medication helped control the violent impulses and behavior, but caused him to feel sedated. (Tr. 442). Dr. Goldenberg noted Plaintiff's loud and occasionally dramatic speech, along with his paranoia and his “having to destroy and smash things”. Id. Plaintiff continued to cope by self-isolating. Id. Plaintiff reported a misunderstanding with a case worker that did not result in Plaintiff smashing things. Id.

         In December 2014, Plaintiff returned to Dr. Goldenberg and continued his complaints of sedation from Seroquel. (Tr. 441). Plaintiff told Dr. Goldenberg “I'm happy with the way things are.” Id. He continued isolating himself from others, but Dr. Goldenberg noted Plaintiff seemed ultimately okay with the isolation. Id. During the visit, Plaintiff's speech was somewhat rapid, and he was vaguely paranoid about other's intentions. Id.

         In February 2015, Plaintiff told Dr. Goldenberg he was still irritable when someone approached him “foolishly”, but nothing was new. (Tr. 440). He was walking away from potentially explosive situations, had no recent violence or outbursts, and still tended to isolate. Id. Plaintiff reported continued use of his medication, which was helpful but caused sedation. Id. His affect remained constricted. Id.

         Plaintiff saw Dr. Goldenberg in July and September 2015. (Tr. 463-469). He said he was “doing ok” in July. (Tr. 465). Plaintiff continued to isolate himself. (Tr. 465, 469). In July, he handled a potential conflict assertively without violence (Tr. 465), but in September reported he “got explosive” with his mom and sister, who then were not speaking with him as a result (Tr. 469). He continued to carry a weapon. (Tr. 469). Dr. Goldenberg noted no recent examples of physical altercations, despite his past history. (Tr. 468). Dr. Goldenberg worried about the prospect of any conflict escalating to violence. (Tr. 469).

         Opinion Evidence

         David House, Ph.D., conducted a psychological consultative evaluation of Plaintiff in February 2010. (Tr. 301-08). Plaintiff had a “very mild menacing quality”, according to Dr. House, though Plaintiff did not actively present himself as menacing. (Tr. 304). He had an “angry undercurrent” with a “brittle quality to his presentation”. Id. Plaintiff's speech was “marked by pressure” but understandable and did not lack content. Id. During the examination, Plaintiff's eye contact was adequate, and no overt delusional material was elicited in the interview. (Tr. 305). He had a mild paranoid quality, but was not evasive or suspicious. Id. Plaintiff told Dr. House he intermittently became depressed, and could also be impulsive. (Tr. 304-05). Plaintiff stated he had impulsive thoughts about an airplane crash from his time in the military, and about a childhood incinerator blast that did not do significant physical damage but still prompted flashbacks. (Tr. 305). He also experienced mood swings and depersonalization. Id. He told Dr. House he can be with people he knows but avoids crowds. Id. Plaintiff could “feel the jealousy of envious people”, prompting Dr. House to believe Plaintiff had some enemies at the homeless shelter where he stayed.[2] Id. His insight into his current situation and overall level of judgment appeared mildly limited. (Tr. 306). Dr. House concluded that the Plaintiff suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”), which mildly limited his ability to maintain attention and concentrate, along with his ability to perform simple repetitive tasks. (Tr. 307). His ability to withstand pressures and stresses associated with day-to-day work activity appeared markedly limited due to his PTSD, as was his ability to relate to others, though he did not appear to require immediate supervision in the management of his daily activities. Id. His ability to adapt appeared moderately limited. Id.

         In January 2014, Dr. Goldenberg completed a Mental Status Questionnaire for the Disability Determination Services. (Tr. 408-10). In the questionnaire, Dr. Goldenberg noted Plaintiff was highly irritable, got into fights, and had a poor response to direction and criticism. (Tr. 409). “He becomes agitated and aggressive in situations where he is criticised [sic] by supervisors or fellow employees. This has led to verbal and physical altercations. He has also been destructive of property when frustrated with supervisor at work”, Dr. Goldenberg noted. Id. He considered Plaintiff's adaptation skills fair. Id. Plaintiff had an appropriate appearance at this examination, along with normal conversation flow, no signs of anxiety or thought disorders, and fully intact cognitive functioning. (Tr. 408). Dr. Goldenberg considered Plaintiff fully capable of remembering, understanding, and following directions; maintaining attention; sustaining concentration, persisting at tasks, and completing them in a timely fashion. (Tr. 409). During this office visit, Plaintiff reported he was “maintaining and managing”, though still enduring some anxiety and depression. (Tr. 426). Plaintiff noted some improvement with medication, and Dr. Goldenberg doubled his dosage of Citalopram to 40 mg. (Tr. 426).

         Also in January 2014, Patricia Semmelman, Ph.D., a state agency reviewing psychologist, listed Plaintiff's affective disorder, anxiety disorder, and personality disorder as severe impairments. (Tr. 87). She opined Plaintiff could complete simple, routine work tasks in a static environment with simple, superficial interactions with coworkers and supervisors, and without fast-paced production requirements or direct contact with the general public. (Tr. 89-90). Dr. Semmelman also opined Plaintiff would have mild restrictions in daily living activities and maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace, and moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning. (Tr. 86).

         In March 2014, Cynthia Waggoner, Psy.D., also a state agency reviewing psychiatrist, agreed with Dr. Semmelman's opinion that Plaintiff was limited to simple, routine tasks in a static work environment free from fast-paced production requirements and no contact with the general public. (Tr. 134). She opined Plaintiff remained capable of simple, superficial interactions with coworkers and supervisors. Id. She found the February 2010 opinion of Dr. House (Tr. 301-08) less persuasive for its lack of substantial support from other evidence in the record and its heavy reliance on the subjective reports provided by Plaintiff. (Tr. 135).

         In September 2014 Plaintiff saw Dr. Goldenberg again. (Tr. 436-37). Dr. Goldenberg completed a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment, noting Plaintiff was markedly limited in his ability to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods, to perform activities within a schedule, to sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision, and to work in coordination with or proximity to others without being distracted by them. (Tr. 436). Dr. Goldenberg also found Plaintiff markedly limited in his ability to complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions, to interact appropriately with the general public, to accept instruction and criticism from supervisors, to get along with coworkers, and to maintain socially appropriate behavior. (Tr. 437). To support his conclusions, Dr. Goldenberg noted Plaintiff had been homeless or incarcerated most of his life. Id. Plaintiff was frequently in verbal altercations, and was highly distractible and irritable, Dr. Goldenberg noted, adding “I would not want him to be in a regular workplace for fear of violence towards coworkers”. Id.

         In June 2015, Mark Anderson, M.S., CDMS, LPC, assessed Plaintiff's residual employability. (Tr. 444). Plaintiff told Mr. Anderson his medication left him fatigued. (Tr. 446). On a typical day, Plaintiff said he would be awake for an hour before falling asleep for another one or two hours because of the medication's side effects. Id. He carried a weapon, either an ice pick or a utility knife, and he said he feared he would use a knife in a workplace to attack a coworker. Id. Plaintiff had no work skills that could transfer to other occupations, Mr. Anderson opined, due to Plaintiff's serious psychological symptoms and medication side effects. Id. His diagnosed PTSD, depression and Explosive Disorder, along with a Purdue Pegboard test result below the first percentile were offered as evidence by Mr. Anderson to support his conclusion that Plaintiff was not employable. (Tr. 448-49).

         VE Testimony

         A vocational expert appeared and testified at the hearing before the ALJ. (Tr. 62-64). The ALJ asked the VE to consider an individual with Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience, who was limited in the way ultimately found by the ALJ's RFC. (Tr. 17). The VE testified such an individual could not perform Plaintiff's past work, but could perform other jobs in the national economy. (Tr. 63-64).

         ALJ Decision

         In her February 3, 2016 decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2014, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of October 2, 2008. (Tr. 14). He had severe impairments of peripheral vascular disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic adjustment disorder with mixed depression and anxiety, intermittent explosive disorder, and paranoid personality disorder, but these impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of a listed impairment individually or in combination. (Tr. 14-15). After consideration of the record, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff had the RFC to:

perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967 (b) except the claimant has the ability to complete simple, routine tasks in a relatively static work environment without demands for meeting fast paced production requirements. He has the capacity for simple, superficial interactions with co-workers and supervisors on an infrequent basis but should not have direct contact with the general public.

(Tr.17). She then concluded Plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work as a machine feeder. (Tr. 24). However considering his age, education, work experience, and RFC, he could perform other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 25). Therefore, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not disabled from his alleged onset date of October 2, 2008, through the date of her decision. (Tr. 26).

         Standard ...

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