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Hayes v. Saul

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

September 23, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security,[1] Defendant.



         This is an action under Title 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying the applications of Joseph Edward Hayes ("Plaintiff) for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. Plaintiff has filed a brief in support of the Complaint (ECF No. 20) and Defendant has filed a brief in support of the Answer (ECF No. 27).

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed his applications for DIB under Title II of the Social Security Act and for SSI under Title XVI of the Act in 2005. (Tr. 385-95) He was found disabled due to mental impairments on March 27, 2006. (Tr. 16) In March 2103, the agency assessed his eligibility for continued disability and determined his disability had ceased. (Tr. 193-200) In a decision dated April 28, 2014, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") found Plaintiffs disability ended on March 15, 2013, and Plaintiff had not become disabled again since that date. (Tr. 141-152) Plaintiff filed a subsequent disability application in August 2014, and the agency found him disabled in a favorable determination made in January 2015. (Tr. 160-71, 178-79)

         However, on December 14, 2015, the Appeals Counsel vacated the April 2014 decision by the ALJ, reopened the January 2015 favorable determination, and remanded the case to a new ALJ. (Tr. 172-81) On July 28, 2017, following an administrative hearing, the new ALJ found Plaintiffs disability ended on March 15, 2013, and Plaintiff had not become disabled again since that date. (Tr. 13-28, 106-21) On March 12, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-6) Thus, the July 28, 2017 decision by the ALJ decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

         In this action for judicial review, Plaintiff claims the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Specifically, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in failing to give proper weight to the opinion of Plaintiff s consultative examining physician, Dr. Shawn Guiling.

         For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, and the Court affirms the decision.

         II. Medical Records and Other Evidence before the ALJ

         During the hearing, counsel for Plaintiff stated Plaintiff had been receiving benefits since January 2015. Plaintiff sought benefits only for the closed period between April 2013 and January 2015. Counsel also stated Plaintiff was diagnosed with borderline intellectual functioning and mild mental retardation. He had social anxiety and speech issues. Plaintiff attempted to work at pizza hut but could not deliver pizzas without getting lost or follow simple instructions to make pizzas. He was able to accomplish dish washing, but he had trouble stacking plates and doing several things at once. (Tr. 110-19) Plaintiffs doctor indicated Plaintiff had a tendency to shut down if he was performing activities wrong. (Tr. 119)

         Plaintiff completed a Function Report - Adult on April 26, 2012. He reported practicing MMA workout cardio, visiting his brother, hanging out with friends, driving his car, cleaning his trailer, doing laundry, skateboarding, doing kickboxing, cleaning his car, listening to music, preparing microwaved meals and sandwiches, mowing the yard, and shopping for clothes and food. He did not need reminders to go places, and he had no problems getting along with others. Plaintiff could pay attention for a long time. He reported he could follow written and instructions "good" and spoken instructions "fine." He was able to get along with authority figures "just fine." Plaintiff further stated he handled stress and changes in routine "pretty well." (Tr. 521-31)

         In a Disability Report dated December 11, 2014, Plaintiff listed his mental conditions limiting his ability to work as bipolar, depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorder. (Tr. 591) In a Function Report - Adult, Plaintiff stated he had a short temper and hated being around people or being in public. He was able to prepare sandwiches or food in the microwave. He did no housework or yard work. Plaintiff did not go out much, and he could not go out alone because he did not like being without his woman. Plaintiffs woman did the shopping. Plaintiff watched TV during the day, and he participated in no social activities. He opined his conditions affected his ability to talk and get along with others. Plaintiff stated his ability to follow instructions depended on what they were for. He did not get along with others or handle stress. Plaintiff stated he was not so much mentally retarded as he had problems working in public. He became anxious and froze up. (Tr. 605-12)

         In 2006, Dr. K.P.S. Kamath performed a disability evaluation. Dr. Kamath noted Plaintiff, who was 19 years old at the time, had a mood disorder, which was difficult to assess due to mental retardation. Plaintiff had poor ability to relate to other people, with some degree of social isolation. He could comprehend and follow instructions but chose not to, and he could perform simple repetitive tasks. Plaintiff had poor ability to cope with stress and pressures of routine work activity, and he was unable to comprehend and follow basic personal and financial affairs. Dr. Kamath diagnosed mood disorder NOS, mental retardation, and history of head injury 3 years ago. (Tr. 996-98)

         More recently, Paul W. Rexroat, Ph.D., completed a consultative psychological evaluation on May 23, 2012 and submitted a report. Dr. Rexroat noted Plaintiff was socially confident and comfortable in his interactions. His attitude was appropriate with good interest and effort. Plaintiff displayed no unusual or bizarre behaviors. Testing revealed a full scale IQ of 75, which was in the borderline range of intelligence. Mental status examination was normal with a normal range of emotional responsiveness and affect. He was alert and cooperative with normal, coherent, relevant speech and no flight of ideas or other abnormalities of speech that would indicate the possible presence of a thought disorder. Dr. Rexroat opined Plaintiff was able to understand and remember simple instructions, and he could sustain concentration and persistence with simple tasks. Plaintiff had mild limitations in his abilities to interact socially and adapt to his environment. With respect to daily activities, Plaintiff was able to clean the house, drive his own car after passing the written test on his sixth try, grocery shop, prepare meals, do laundry, and watch TV. Dr. Rexroat found mild limitations in this area. Plaintiff also had mild limitations in his social functioning abilities, as he had friends, saw family members most days, and was able to get along with others despite a preference to stay by himself. Dr. Rexroat noted Plaintiffs ability to sustain concentration, persistence, and pace during the exam. However, due to his borderline range, he had moderate limitations in his ability to remember previously learned information or learn new information. Dr. Rexroat diagnosed borderline intelligence and occupational problems. (Tr. 1024-1030)

         Plaintiff returned to Dr. Rexroat on February 13, 2013 for a psychological evaluation at the request of Disability Determinations. Plaintiffs presenting problem was listed as brain damage. Plaintiff reported he never had treatment from a mental health professional on an outpatient basis. Mental status examination was normal. Plaintiff reported occasional mood swings but no anxiety. He thought he was depressed and reported being angry but not irritable. He had adequate energy and exercises a lot. He avoided being around other people but was not suicidal or homicidal. Plaintiff reported no paranoia, hallucinations, or delusions. However, he had trouble sleeping. Plaintiff was well oriented for person, place, time, and situation, and his memory was fair. He exhibited good verbal judgment. Dr. Rexroat opined Plaintiff could understand and remember simple instructions and sustain concentration and persistence with simple tasks. He was able to interact socially and had mild limitation in his ability to adapt to his environment. Plaintiff was also able to clean his house, drive a car, grocery shop, prepare meals, do laundry, watch TV, play video games, listen to music, skateboard, and do mixed martial arts. Thus, Dr. Rexroat found only mild limitations in Plaintiffs activities of daily living due to unemployment. Dr. Rexroat opined Plaintiff had few limitations in the area of social functioning, as he saw friends, spent time with his brothers, and had a girlfriend he saw daily. In addition, Plaintiff could sustain concentration, persistence, and pace with simple tasks. Memory was in the borderline range, which caused moderate limitations. Dr. Rexroat assessed mood disorder NOS, mild; borderline intelligence; and occupational and educational problems. Plaintiffs motivation was good, and his prognosis was fair. (Tr. 1036-1039)

         On March 4, 2013, Scott Brandhorst, Psy.D., completed a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment based on the evidence in the record. Dr. Brandhorst found moderate limitations in Plaintiffs ability to understand and remember detailed instructions and his ability to carry out detailed instructions. He opined Plaintiff was not significantly limited in any other areas of functioning. (Tr. 1042-0144)

         Dr. Brandhorst also completed a Psychiatric Review Technique form and found Plaintiff had affective disorders, namely mood disorder NOS, mild, under listing 12.04 and mental retardation, namely borderline intelligence, under listing 12.05. Dr. Branhorst opined Plaintiff had mild restrictions of daily living; mild difficulties in maintaining social functioning; moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; and no repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration. Upon review of the medical evidence, Dr. Brandhorst found Plaintiff demonstrated the ability to work, and ...

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