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Litz v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division, Dayton

December 17, 2019

DANIEL LITZ, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION Defendant.

          DECISION AND ENTRY

          Sharon L. Ovington, United States Magistrate Judge.

         I.

         The Social Security Administration provides Disability Insurance Benefits to individuals who are under a disability, among other eligibility requirements. A disability in this context refers to “any medically determinable physical or mental impairment” that precludes an applicant from engaging in “substantial gainful activity.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); see Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 469-70 (1986).

         Plaintiff Daniel Litz applied for Disability Insurance Benefits in July 2013, asserting that he was under a disability as of January 31, 2008. His application and evidence proceeded to a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Eric Anschuetz, who later concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability and not eligible for benefits. Upon Plaintiff's appeal to this Court the parties agreed to a remand for further administrative proceedings.

         On remand the Administration's Appeals Council vacated ALJ Anschuetz's decision and sent to matter to an ALJ for further analysis. (Doc. #5, PageID #750-51). ALJ Mark Hockensmith then took up the matter. He held a hearing (during which Plaintiff testified) and later determined that Plaintiff was not under a disability and not eligible to receive benefits. Id. at 607-22, 682-712.

         Plaintiff brings this case challenging ALJ Hockensmith's decision. He seeks a remand to the Social Security Administration for payment of disability insurance benefits or, alternatively, for further proceedings. The Commissioner seeks an Order affirming ALJ Hockensmith's non-disability decision.

         II.

         Plaintiff was 40 years old and considered a younger person on the date (December 31, 2013) he was last insured under the Disability Insurance Benefits program. He has a high-school education, perhaps more. Before he applied for benefits, he worked as an automotive machinist.

         Many years ago-at age 9-Plaintiff was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. Id. at 687. This chronic inflammatory disease of the intestinal tract most commonly manifests with symptoms of abdominal pain and diarrhea. Other symptoms include rectal bleeding, weight loss, fever, fatigue, anemia, joint pain, and nausea or loss of appetite. See https://medlineplus.gov/crohnsdisease.html; see also https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/crohns-disease/symptoms-causes. Crohn's “disease is often accompanied by periods of inactivity as well as a high rate of recurrence after treatment.” Dix v. Sullivan, 900 F.2d 135, 136 (8th Cir. 1990).

         During ALJ Hockensmith's hearing, Plaintiff testified that since he was young, physicians had prescribed Prednisone. He explained, however, that his medications caused him to have a psychotic break in 2013. He could not take Prednisone after that. He reported, “And that was one of my key weapons to … help with the disease.” Id. at 693.

         The last company Plaintiff worked for went into bankruptcy in 2005. This caused him a lot of stress and aggravated his Crohn's disease. He explained to ALJ Hockensmith:

So when I left the company, it had been very stressful, due to the bankruptcy process and I was-I had a hard time with it. And that probably caused some flare-ups … and those flare-ups would've been abdominal pain, bleeding, fatigue, those sorts of things. Just weakness, in general, bleeding, fatigue, those sorts of things. Just weakness, in general. Shakiness. And so-and then some of that time … was better. I would usually, like have bathrooms normally, three times a day and that would be okay, but, you know, like once a week, you know, I'll have diarrhea a couple of times and once a month, I'm sure to have a flare-up.

Id. at 694. Plaintiff testified that his flare-ups occurred “quite often during the years.” Id. at 695. A flare-up could last up to months…, until they could get it under control. But usually, it's maybe three to five days….” Id. When he experiences a flare-up, he spends most of the day on the toilet. He gets a “really painful sensation” telling him he must use the bathroom. This would wear him out:

I'd be sweating and tired and then I'd go [lie] on the bed and kind of curl up and put a hot water bottle on my stomach or something to-you know, take my medicine and try to ease the pain, but that's typically where I end up in … bed.

Id. at 696.

         Plaintiff listed his medications at the time of the ALJ's hearing as Paroxetine (“for mental health and anxiety”), Duloxetine (“for mental health and anxiety”), Buspar (“for mental health and anxiety”), Hydrazine (“for anxiety”), Omeprazole (“for acid reflux”), Amitryptiline (“for anxiety and it's a sleep aid”), Gabapentin (“for Crohn's and [his] nerves”), Hydrocodone (“for pain due to Crohn's”), Lorazepam (“for anxiety”), and Pentasa (for Crohn's). Id. at 696-97, 699-700.

         Anxiety keeps Plaintiff homebound. He doesn't much like to be around people. He is anxious because he must frequently use the bathroom and does not like to go places where there's not a bathroom nearby he can sprint to. He does not like to eat out because eating causes him pain, requiring him to go home immediately. Id. at 697. He estimated that he spends about 80% of the time isolated from others. His health was starting to get really bad in 2009, and he was very anxious and had mental problems starting in 2010. He added, “I was having my normal Crohn's disease, but on top of that, in 2010 is when I was having a hard time mentally with the family and with myself.” Id. at 698. During this time, he would feel very sad and depressed and would cry. Before 2010, he would go hiking. He considered himself an “outdoorsy person.” Id. It was a huge change for him to spend a lot of time indoors. Sometimes Plaintiff needed to get to a bathroom within seconds. Once or twice a year he would not make it to the bathroom before he had an accident. Id. at 698-99.

         Ann Litz, Plaintiff's wife of 21 years, testified during Plaintiff's first hearing (before ALJ Anschuetz) and during her second hearing (before ALJ Hockensmith). Ms. List told ALJ Hockensmith that Plaintiff had always been friendly in the past. She described him as a “talkative, easy-going person, [who] made friends easily, didn't have a problem interacting with people, you know, neighbors, people walking down the street. He would talk to everybody. Very-just a very easy, gentle, kind person.” Id. at 702. Ms. List said that Plaintiff liked to do a lot of outdoor activities such as hiking or coaching their kids' soccer teams. After he stopped working, he had “a lot of anxiety and stomach issues…. He was losing weight. He was just having a lot of stress issues. Mentally, he was struggling. [H]e was just sick a lot that last-the last year. I think we used up every hour of his FMLA that year…. And, you know, he just-he had a lot of pain and those types of things, so he was sick a lot that year.” Id. at 702-03.

         Ms. Litz testified that when Plaintiff had a really bad Crohn's flare-up, he curled up on the bed, sweating, and “you could just see he was in pain.” Id. at 703. She confirmed that when they went out to eat (in years past), they always needed to be close to a restroom. Id. At one point, Plaintiff lost 33 pounds in 3 weeks. He needed to eat baby food to obtain calories. She explained, ...


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