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Seiler v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division

July 6, 2017

KODY SEILER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1], Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CAROL E. JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court for review of an adverse ruling by the Social Security Administration (SSA). The Court has reviewed the parties' briefs and the entire administrative record.

         I. Procedural History

         On May 14, 2013, plaintiff filed an application for adult disabled child's insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, alleging disability beginning December 1, 1995. (Tr. 151-159). The claim was denied initially on August 30, 2013. (Tr. 83). Thereafter, plaintiff filed a written request for hearing on October 2, 2013. (Tr. 90-91). On August 13, 2014, a video hearing was held in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 41-65). The ALJ subsequently issued an unfavorable decision on December 19, 2014. (Tr. 9-25). On February 11, 2016, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1). Accordingly, the ALJ's decision stands as the Social Security Commissioner's final decision.

         II. Evidence Before the ALJ

         A. Disability Application Documents

         On May 14, 2013, plaintiff applied for adult disabled child's insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. (Tr. 151, 153). Plaintiff's claim for disability benefits was based upon: severe hearing loss, choanal artresia in nose, chronic ear infections, and depression. (Tr. 66). Plaintiff alleged an inability to function and/or work as of December 1, 1995, when he was one year old. (Tr. 66).

         1. Disability Report (undated)

         In an undated Disability Report plaintiff stated that he suffered from severe hearing loss, choanal artresia in nose, chronic ear infections, and depression. (Tr. 176). Plaintiff reported that he had never worked and believed his condition had become severe enough to keep him from working on December 1, 1995. (Tr. 176). Plaintiff graduated from high school on May 17, 2013 and did not attend special education classes or complete any type of specialized job training, trade, or vocational school. (Tr. 177). From August 2011 to April 2013, and continuing as needed, plaintiff saw Deanna Siemer, M.D., as his general physician. (Tr. 183). Dr. Siemer treated, among other issues, plaintiff's ear infections. (Tr. 183).

         Plaintiff stated that he had seen Steve Brown, a health care professional at The Audiology Center, from 1995 or 1996 until 2011 for checkups, to clean out his ears, do audio tests, and secure hearing aids. (Tr. 179). Plaintiff also noted that he had a hearing test performed in 2011 by Christopher H. Jung, M.D. (Tr. 179-180). Plaintiff stated he also saw Dr. Jung in 2013 for an ear examination and to receive x-rays for his ears. (Tr. 180). Plaintiff also noted that he had seen Richard Martin, M.D. since 1995 or 1996 until 2007 to place tubes in his ears, to remove his adenoids/tonsils, and for surgery on his nose. (Tr. 181). Plaintiff also stated that he visited Miracle Ear every three months from August of 2011 to April of 2013 for checkups, cleaning, hearing aids, and audio testing. (Tr. 181-182). Plaintiff noted that he saw Jan Seabaugh, M.D. from 2007 until 2012 for checkups, in-ear tube placement, and to receive antibiotics for ear infections. (Tr. 182). Plaintiff also visited Vocational Rehabilitation at the end of 2012 to meet with Melissa Gallup, a counselor for the deaf assisting in education and training. (Tr. 184).

         2. Disability Report - Field Office

         In a Disability Report dated May 14, 2013, plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of December 1, 1995, and stated that was the date he began wearing hearing aids. (Tr. 186). The report stated that plaintiff had difficulty with hearing, understanding, coherency, concentrating, talking, and answering. (Tr. 187). The report observed that plaintiff was neat and clean, and cooperative most of the time. (Tr. 188). The report noted that plaintiff had difficulty hearing the questions he was being asked, and most of the questions were answered by his grandmother. He also appeared to have difficulty understanding the questions, as he would look to his grandmother for the information. (Tr. 188). The report further noted that plaintiff insisted on reading everything himself and stated that he read well. (Tr. 188). The field officer noted that he thought plaintiff may have been in special education; however both plaintiff and his grandmother said he had not been in special education classes. (Tr. 188). Plaintiff and his grandmother reported that plaintiff loved school and did not want to graduate and lose contact with his friends. (Tr. 188). The field officer wrote that plaintiff appeared and sounded a lot younger than his years and seemed very immature. (Tr. 188).

         3. Function Report

         In a Function Report dated May 28, 2013, plaintiff stated he lived at home with his grandparents. (Tr. 189). When asked what he did from the time he woke up until going to bed, plaintiff stated that he played video games, visited neighbors, went to town, attended school until graduation, and went for daily walks. (Tr. 189). Plaintiff also stated that he was not working at the time. (Tr. 197). Plaintiff stated that he does not support anyone else nor does he take care of pets or other animals for himself or others. (Tr. 190). Plaintiff also stated that illnesses, injuries, or other conditions do not impact his sleep. (Tr. 190).

         Plaintiff noted that he had no problems with personal care. (Tr. 190). He did not need special reminders to take care of personal needs and grooming, nor did he need help or reminders to take medicine. (Tr. 191). Plaintiff stated that his grandmother prepared his meals, but sometimes he cooks food in the microwave. (Tr. 191). Plaintiff's household chores consisted of weeding the yard once a month. (Tr. 191). He did not do housework because he lives with his grandparents and just graduated high school. (Tr. 192). Plaintiff's primary hobbies and interests are reading, video games, and using his computer to write; he engaged in these activities daily. (Tr. 193). Plaintiff also spent time with others playing sports and riding all-terrain vehicles on a weekly basis. (Tr. 193). He attends sporting events and does not need anyone to accompany him. (Tr. 193). Plaintiff also stated that he does not have problems getting along with family, friends, neighbors, or others. (Tr. 194).

         Plaintiff stated that he does a lot of walking and can walk two miles or more without a rest. (Tr. 192). He stated that he is able to go out alone and that he walks, drives a car, or rides in a car to get to his destination. (Tr. 192, 194). Plaintiff is able to do shopping in stores and by computer. (Tr. 192). Plaintiff stated that he is able to pay bills, count change, and use a checkbook/money order and that his ability to handle money had not changed since his condition began. (Tr. 192-193).

         Plaintiff stated that his condition affects his talking and hearing because his loss of hearing makes it harder to communicate. (Tr. 194). Plaintiff stated he can follow written instructions well but has trouble following spoken instructions because of his hearing issues. (Tr. 194). Plaintiff stated that he gets along with authority figures and can handle stress and changes in routine. (Tr. 195). Plaintiff wears a hearing aid and uses contact lenses, both prescribed by doctors. (Tr. 195). The hearing aid was prescribed when he was 18 months old and the lenses were prescribed when he was in second grade. Plaintiff stated he needs these aids at all times. (Tr. 195).

         4. Disability Determination Explanation

         According to the Disability Determination Explanation, dated August 30, 2013, plaintiff had hearing loss which was not treated with cochlear implantation and plaintiff's statements about the intensity, persistence, and functionally limited effects of the symptoms were substantiated by the objective medical evidence. (Tr. 70-71). It was further noted that plaintiff's treating physician stated that plaintiff would be unable to excel or function in the world without his hearing aids; however, with his aids he should be able to complete tasks as he would want. (Tr. 72). The explanation found that plaintiff was not limited to unskilled work because of the impairments and determined he was not disabled. (Tr. 73).

         The case analysis noted that plaintiff was not currently being treated by a psychiatrist and was not seeking outpatient counseling. (Tr. 70). He was also not taking any psychotropic medications at the time and had not required inpatient or emergency treatment for any mental impairment. (Tr. 70). Plaintiff denied problems with personal care and noted he does some yard work and is able to drive and go out alone. (Tr. 70). He further stated that he shops in stores and by computer and spends time with others playing video games, sports and riding his all-terrain vehicle. (Tr. 70). He further reported that he handles stress and changes in routine adequately. (Tr. 70).

         5. Work History Report

         An undated work history report was contained in the record. Apart from listing plaintiff's name, social security number, and phone numbers the report was left blank. (Tr. 169-175).

         B. Medical Records

         1. The Audiology Center

         On May 29, 1998, plaintiff visited the Audiology Center for testing by Steve Brown. (Tr. 256). Plaintiff was not tested for speech discrimination. (Tr. 256). Brown recommended a follow-up visit. (Tr. 256). After testing on February 2, 2000, it was noted that plaintiff had speech discrimination of 92% in the right ear and 88% in the left ear. (Tr. 255). Brown remarked that plaintiff had moderate to severe loss in his ears. (Tr. 255). On November 26, 2011, plaintiff underwent testing which revealed that plaintiff had speech discrimination of 80% in the right ear and 92% in the left ear. (Tr. 253). On February 11, 2002, plaintiff was tested and was found to have speech discrimination of 88% in the right ear and 92% in the left ear. (Tr. 251). Brown stated that there was significant improvement in the right ear. (Tr. 251). On October 24, 2002, plaintiff underwent testing which revealed that he had good speech discrimination in both ears with discrimination scores of 92% for both ears. (Tr. 247).

         On August 15, 2005, plaintiff visited the Audiology Center for testing. (Tr. 246). Brown commented that results continue to suggest sensorineural hearing loss, mild to moderate in the left ear and moderate in the right. (Tr. 246). Brown recommended daily use of hearing aids, preferential classroom seating, and use of personal FM auditory trainer in classroom as needed. (Tr. 246). On August 7, 2006, plaintiff visited the Audiology Center for testing which noted that plaintiff had good speech discrimination in both ears with discrimination scores of 92% for both ears. (Tr. 242). Brown noted that there was a significant conductive reduction in hearing, in addition to sensori-neural loss. (Tr. 242).

         On May 31, 2007, plaintiff visited the Audiology Center for testing which noted that plaintiff had good speech discrimination in both ears with discrimination scores of 92% for both ears. (Tr. 241). Brown noted that there was a significant conductive reduction in hearing, in addition to sensori-neural loss. (Tr. 241). On May 19, 2008, plaintiff visited the Audiology Center for testing which noted that plaintiff had good speech discrimination in both ears with discrimination scores of 92% for both ears. (Tr. 239). On September 13, 2010, Brown observed moderate sensori-neural hearing loss in both ears. (Tr. 236). Brown recommended: (1) daily use of hearing aids, (2) preferential classroom seating, and (3) use of FM-loop systems for direct auditory input. (Tr. 236).

         On September 16, 2010, Brown wrote a letter to Laura Saupe, RN, a nurse at plaintiff's high school. (Tr. 237). Brown wrote that plaintiff experiences a sensori-neural impairment of hearing in each ear and had worn amplification in each ear since childhood. (Tr. 237). Brown also noted that plaintiff's hearing aids were approximately seven years old, and that one of them was no longer working and the other did not meet the manufacturer's specifications. (Tr. 237). Brown also stated that plaintiff's hearing loss is of moderate severity and slightly worse on his right side. (Tr. 237). He noted plaintiff maintained relatively good speech discrimination and normal middle ear function bilaterally. (Tr. 237). Brown recommended plaintiff be fit with new and more appropriate amplification and that he be provided with preferential classroom seating and an FM amplification system on an as needed basis. (Tr. 237).

         On October 18, 2010, Steve Brown authored a letter to plaintiff's parents regarding plaintiff's September 13, 2010 visit. (Tr. 238). The letter stated that plaintiff continued to experience a moderate sensori-neural hearing loss in both ears, slightly worse on the right side. (Tr. 238). Brown noted the age of plaintiff's hearing aids and that one did not work and the other did not meet the manufacturer's specifications. (Tr. 238). The letter also noted that plaintiff did not qualify for Medicaid and that new devices would be ordered upon receipt of notification that financing had been obtained. (Tr. 238).

         On April 1, 2011, plaintiff visited the Audiology Center for testing by Cathy Willen. (Tr. 234). Willen noted that there was a significant change in hearing from September 13, 2010. (Tr. 234). Willen suggested plaintiff increase volume in his hearing aids and recommended plaintiff for a follow-up visit. (Tr. 234).

         2. Jan Seabaugh

         On February 17, 2012, plaintiff visited Jan Seabaugh, M.D. with drainage in his left ear. (Tr. 259). Dr. Seabaugh noted that plaintiff's primary complaint was a possible ear infection and left ear trouble. (Tr. 259). Dr. Seabuagh performed an exam on his ears, prescribed medicine and recommended plaintiff return in two weeks for follow-up. (Tr. 260).

         3. Christopher Jung

         On February 5, 2013, plaintiff saw Christopher Jung, M.D., for recurrent ear infections. (Tr. 262). Plaintiff also complained of hearing loss. (Tr. 262). Jung diagnosed plaintiff with unspecific otitis media, chronic sinusitis, and a deviated nasal septum. (Tr. 264). On June 3, 2013, plaintiff visited Dr. Jung presenting with bilateral bloody ear drainage. (Tr. 281). Jung noted plaintiff had unresolved symptoms including: hearing loss, bilateral ear discharge, bilateral earache, and recurring ear infections. (Tr. 281). Jung ...


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