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Holohan v. Berryhill

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

May 18, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         This action is before this Court for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security finding that Plaintiff Shannon K. Holohan was not disabled, and thus not entitled to disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner will be reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.


         Agency Records, Medical Records, Evidentiary Hearing, and ALJ's Decision

         The Court adopts the statement of facts set forth in Plaintiffs Statement of Uncontroverted Facts (ECF No. 11-1), as amended by Defendant to clarify the page number for a transcript cite and the date of one medical record (ECF No. 16-1); as well as Defendant's Statement of Additional Facts (ECF No. 16-2), which Plaintiff has not opposed. Together, these statements provide a fair description of the record before the Court. Specific facts will be discussed as needed to address the parties' arguments.

         Plaintiff, who was born on September 13, 1967, filed his application for benefits on December 30, 2013, alleging disability beginning April 1, 2013, due to rheumatoid arthritis, major depressive disorder, pain, swelling in the knees and ankles, seizures and pseudo seizures, anxiety, and fatigue. On March 11, 2014, Plaintiff's application was denied at the initial administrative level, and he thereafter requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ").

         A hearing was held on January 15, 2016, at which Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. By decision dated May 9, 2016, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, inflammatory bowel disease, history of myasthenia gravis, history of knee and shoulder surgeries, depression, and anxiety. The ALJ further determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary unskilled work, as defined by the Commissioner's regulations, except that Plaintiff was further limited as follows:

[H]e must be able to alternate sitting and standing every 30 minutes but would not be off-task. [He] is limited to only occasional stooping and climbing ramps and stairs, and he cannot engage in kneeling, crouching, crawling, or climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. [He] must avoid exposure to extreme heat, cold, and humidity and he is limited to performing simple, routine tasks not at a fast pace such as would be required on an assembly line. He can have only occasional changes in the work setting and can only occasionally interact with the public and coworkers.

Tr. 18.

         In formulating this RFC, the ALJ discounted Plaintiff's testimony regarding his disabling symptoms. The ALJ noted that Plaintiff had a good work history as a sales representative at a seed company prior to the alleged onset date of disability, and that he was terminated because, as a result of his impairments, he could not perform his duties involving lifting 60 pounds and interacting with customers. The ALJ then stated:

[A]lthough this is a factor that bolsters the persuasiveness of [Plaintiff's] allegations, other factors prove more weighty. For example, [Plaintiff] reported to his treating physician on April 25, 2013, that while he stopped working as a seed salesman, he continued to work his cattle farm. Work performed during any period in which the claimant alleges disability, even when that work activity is not substantial gainful employment, demonstrate[s] a level of vigor, stamina, cognitive functioning, and emotional stability inconsistent with the allegation of disability.

         Tr. 20. The ALJ also stated that Plaintiffs daily activities were inconsistent with his allegations of disabling limitations, including Plaintiffs self-described ability on "good days" to take care of his personal care tasks, see his children off to school, and run errands such as shopping.

         Finally, the ALJ gave partial weight to the opinion of Plaintiff s treating primary care physician, Michael Daly, D.O., and little weight to the opinion of Plaintiff s treating psychiatrist, Suzanne King, M.D. The ALJ gave no weight to the opinions of both of these treating providers that Plaintiff would likely be off task 20% (according to Dr. Daly) or 25% (according to Dr. King) of the workday and would miss more than four days of work per month due to his physical and mental symptoms. As to Dr. King's opinion, the ALJ reasoned that "Dr. King initially checked off 'mild' then changed to 'moderate' [regarding Plaintiff's ability to interact with the public, supervisors, and coworkers, ] as well as initially checked off 'moderate' and changed to 'marked' [regarding Plaintiffs judgment-making ability regarding complex work decisions and his ability to understand, remember, and carry out complex instructions] on the preprinted form [medical source statement] without explanation." Tr. 22. The ALJ further concluded that Dr. King's narrative explanations in support of her opinions were insufficient.

         As to both Dr. King's and Dr. Daly's opinions regarding Plaintiffs likely absence from work and being off task, the ALJ concluded that the overall evidence of record, including the treatment records of Plaintiff s treating rheumatologist, Robert Jackson, D.O., and the psychiatric treatment records of Dr. King, reflected that Plaintiffs arthritic related symptoms were controlled with immunosuppressant therapy with only minor flare-ups of joint pain and swelling, and ...

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