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Garvey v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division

March 8, 2017

MARK L. GARVEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          C.J. Williams Chief United States Magistrate Judge.

         TABLE OF CONTENTS

         I. INTRODUCTION ............................................................................... 2

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND ................................................................. 2

         III. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND .......................................................... 8

         IV. DISABILITY DETERMINATOINS AND THE BURDEN OF PROOF ............ 9

         V. THE ALJ'S FINDINGS ..................................................................... 11

         VI. THE SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE STANDARD ..................................... 12

         VII. DISCUSSION ............................................................................... 13

         A. The ALJ's evaluation of Drs. Stientjes and Wright .............................. 14

         B. The ALJ's determination of claimant's mental impairments ................... 16

         C. Past relevant work of telephone solicitor ........................................... 19

         D. ALJ's determination as to claimant's visual limitations ......................... 21

         VIII. CONCLUSION ............................................................................ 23

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff, Mark L. Garvey (claimant), seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying his application for disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB), and supplemental security income (SSI) under Title II and XVI (respectively) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 423, 1383(c)(3). Claimant contends the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred when she failed to: (1) correctly apply the regulations in determining whether claimant's work as a telephone solicitor met the requirements of past relevant work; (2) properly evaluate the medical opinion evidence of Dr. Stientjes and Dr. Wright relating to work related limitations; (3) find that claimant's mental impairments were not severe at step two of the disability analysis; and (4) support with substantial evidence her determination in claimant's RFC that claimant's only visual limitation was limited peripheral vision.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Claimant was born on September 14, 1953, is currently 63, and was 60 years old at the time of the hearing. AR 41. Claimant completed high school, some classes at a community college, which did not result in a degree, and was a member of the Air Force from 1975 to 1976. AR 42. Claimant's alleged onset date for purposes of his DIB claim is September 5, 2011, and his alleged onset date for his SSI claim is February 6, 2012. AR 271.

         Claimant visited the emergency room on December 1, 2007, for vomiting, headaches, and photophobia. AR 424-25. Two days, later he returned to the emergency room for eye pain, redness, irritation, and photophobia. AR 420. On both occasions, claimant was found to be stable and was discharged, though he remained in pain. AR 423, 430. During an emergency room visit in April 2008, the emergency room doctor, Dr. Butler, noted that claimant had an inflamed retina. AR 403.

         On June 20, 2012, Dr. John Kuhnlein performed a consultative examination. AR 474. Dr. Kuhnlein gave his opinion as to claimant's physical restrictions based on his examination of claimant. AR 477. Dr. Kuhnlein opined that claimant had no restrictions in his ability to lift, push, pull, carry, sit, bend, grip objects, or use his upper extremities. AR 477-78. Due primarily to leg pain and poor ability to balance, Dr. Kuhnlein also restricted claimant to: occasionally using stairs; rarely standing, walking, stooping, or using his lower extremity; and never crawling, kneeling, using ladders, walking on uneven surfaces, or working on a production line. AR 477-78. Additionally, Dr. Kuhnlein found that claimant was not restricted in his vision, hearing, communication, and had no restrictions as to environments involving heat, cold, dust, or mist. AR 478. Dr. Kuhnlein did restrict claimant from using power tools and traveling. AR 478. Lastly, Dr. Kuhnlein performed a range of motion examination and found in every area, except the flexing of the neck, claimant could perform the full range of motion. AR 480-81.

         Dr. Shannon Throndson was claimant's primary care provider. AR 485. Claimant called Dr. Throndson's office on May 11, 2012, and reported waking in the middle of the night while having a panic attack that immobilized him for five minutes. AR 486. On June 27, 2012, he stated that he felt depressed and Dr. Throndson prescribed defendant depression medication. AR 485.

         On August 3, 2012, claimant attended a consultative examination with Dr. Harlan Stientjes, Ph.D., to which he drove himself, arrived on time, was well oriented, well groomed, and exhibited adequate eye contact. AR 88, 502-03. During the consultative exam, claimant responded to questions from the Beck Depression Inventory and Beck Anxiety Inventory which lead the consultative examiner to conclude he suffered from depressive and anxiety-based symptoms. AR 88, 503. The reported symptoms of depression included: “feelings of worthlessness, indecisiveness, difficulties concentrating, low energy, and fatigue, ” but he did not have suicidal or homicidal ideation. AR 88, 503. The symptoms of anxiety claimant reported were, “numbness or tingling, heart pounding, fear of the worst happening, feeling terrified, and fear of dying” and he also experience panic attacks about once a month. AR 503. During the exam, it was also determined that claimant could read well, had good content recall, and overall average intelligence. AR 88, 503. In addition, claimant interacted with others acceptably, and claimant's safety judgment was intact, and claimant could tolerate changes in moderation. AR 504. Claimant reported using a computer for research. AR 503. Dr. Stientjes diagnosed claimant with major depressive disorder with anxiety, avoidant personality traits, and noted that claimant had problems with his primary support group and Dr. Stientjes gave claimant a GAF 55. AR 504.

         Dr. Richard Kettlekamp treated claimant for his cardiovascular conditions. AR 519-40. Dr. Kettlekamp saw claimant for follow ups after the placement of cardiac stents in April and October 2007. AR 518, 522, 524. During both of these appointments, claimant denied blurred or double vision. AR 522, 525. On October 28, 2008, claimant visited Dr. Kettlekamp and claimant denied any blurred or double vision. AR 521. In April of 2010, claimant attended a one-year follow up and again denied blurred or double vision. AR 518. In April of 2010, Dr. Kettlekamp found trace ankle edema and trace foot edema. AR 519.

         On May 16, 2012, claimant began going to the University of Iowa Clinic. At this appointment, claimant sought mental health services. AR 554. Dr. Stephen Russell determined that he had multifocal choroiditis, scattered chorioretinal scars on both eyes, outer retinal atrophy in claimant's left eye, and photoreceptor atrophy in claimant's right eye, as well as “[b]ranch retinal vein occlusion [in right eye] with extensive macular edema.” AR 542, 546. Dr. Russell treated claimant's macular edema with Avastin. AR 546, 577, 581, 587, 591. In September of 2013, Dr. Russell increased the dosage of the depression medication prescribed to claimant and recommended therapy because claimant reported that his depression was worsening. AR 559, 561. In an October 2013 visit with Dr. Russel, claimant reported that his vision was less blurry, and was not experiencing any new floaters, flashes, or pain. AR 563. Also during this visit, claimant reports his blood sugar was 124 and the report notes his last A1C was 5.9. AR 563. At an appointment on November 27, 2013, claimant complained of throbbing eyes-strain pain in both eyes resulting in a headache, caused by bright lights and looking at a computer screen. AR 573.

         On April 2, 2014, claimant reported that his vision was stable and there had been no new floaters, flashes, or other increases in vision loss. AR 582. A few months later, in July 2014, claimant reported to Dr. Russell that his vision had worsened and that he was experiencing aching in the back of his eyes, which occurred a few times a week and lasted a few hours at each time. AR 588.

         Dr. David Muller, who examined claimant on June 20, 2012, stated that claimant's visual condition seemed to be stable, his visual acuity was 20/25, and claimant was doing well. AR 496. The only limitation to claimant's vision mentioned in the letter by Dr. Muller was limited peripheral vision. AR 496-97.

         Dr. Dee Wright, Ph.D., is a non-examining state agency medical consultant who reviewed the medical information provided by claimant, and the consultative examination, and evaluated complainant's mental health. AR 88. Dr. Wright concluded from reviewing the medical evidence that claimant “exhibits variable sustained attention/concentration, ” he would have difficulties performing “extremely complex cognitive activities that demanded prolonged attention to minute, complex details and rapid response rates.” AR 89. But, Dr. Wright also concluded that claimant “is able to sustain sufficient concentration/attention and memory functioning to perform simple to moderately complex cognitive activities that do not require rapid response rates without significant limitations of function.” AR 89. Ultimately, Dr. Wright found that claimant did not have serious impairments to his social functioning, and that claimant's condition did not meet or equal any listing. AR 89.

         On reconsideration, complainant reported to the state disability office that his vision had worsened and that he now saw sparkly spots and rings. AR 112, 125. Dr. Jan Hunter, D.O., affirmed the Dr. Wright's finding that claimant was not disabled. AR 121, 135.

         On February 23, 2012, claimant's wife at the time of the application submitted a function report. AR 282-89. Ms. Garvey indicated that her husband had trouble balancing and walking, that he walked with a cane, and that he could no longer lift, squat, bend, stand, reach, walk, kneel, see, or climb stairs as well as he used to. AR 287. Ms. Garvey also stated that claimant did not handle stress or changes in routine well, and that he could only maintain concentration for a few minutes. AR 287-88. She further stated that claimant performed light cleaning, helped take care of his grandchildren, shopped, drove, made balloon animals, and whittled. AR 283-86.

         Claimant reported that his physical conditions were diabetes, heart stints, difficulty with balance, and deteriorating vision. AR 290. During a typical day, claimant stated that he would eat, try to walk for exercise, and occasionally make “balloon art” for his grandchildren. AR 291. He also regularly was able to assist his wife due to her health problems. AR 291. Claimant reported that he had no trouble taking care of personal needs, he cooked and cleaned on a regular basis, he could mow the lawn, drive, ride a bike and a motorcycle, and had no problems handling money. AR 293. He did state he had trouble sleeping due to nightmares. AR 291. He further reported he had poor balance, could not walk long distances, and had trouble lifting, squatting, bending, standing, walking, sitting, kneeling, climbing stairs, and had memory problems. AR 291-95. He emphasized his trouble ...


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