United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga
JUSTIN A. WATSON, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
K. LEE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Justin A. Watson (“Plaintiff”) brought this
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial
review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner” or
“Defendant”) denying him disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”). Each party has moved for a
judgment [Docs. 15 & 17] with supporting briefs [Docs. 16
& 18]. This matter is now ripe. For the reasons stated
below, (1) Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the
pleadings [Doc. 15] will be DENIED; (2) the
Commissioner's motion for summary judgment [Doc. 17] will
be GRANTED; and the decision of the
Commissioner will be AFFIRMED.
filed his application for DIB on February 25, 2014, alleging
disability beginning October 19, 2012 (Transcript [Doc. 10]
(“Tr.”) 190). Plaintiff's claim was denied
initially and upon reconsideration at the agency level. After
a hearing and reviewing new evidence, the ALJ also found that
Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social
Security Act (“SSA”) (Tr. 10-20). After the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review
making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner, Plaintiff timely filed the instant action.
Education and Employment Background
was born in 1981 making him a “younger
individual” on the alleged onset date when he was 31
(Tr. 85). Plaintiff has a high school education, is able to
communicate in English, and has a past relevant work history
that includes work as a billing clerk and retail sales clerk
(Tr. 18-20, 99).
record reflects Plaintiff suffers from, among other things,
protracted constipation, chronic digestive problems,
long-term respiratory illness, chronic pain and neuropathy.
While only select portions of Plaintiff's medical records
are specifically mentioned herein, all pertinent medical
information has been considered.
before and after the alleged onset date of October 19, 2012,
Plaintiff received treatment at Behavioral Health Associates,
where his main treating psychiatrist was Prameet Bhushan,
M.D., (Tr. 1188-99, 1642-93). On July 11, 2012, Dr. Bhushan
completed a medical source statement entitled “Medical
Record Summation Inquiry” (Tr. 1764-67). In that
statement, Dr. Bhushan concluded Plaintiff's condition
was “very reactive to stress” and that he
presented “poor” abilities in (defined as
“usually precluded” from) social functioning,
concentration, persistence, pace and adaptation (Tr.
1764-67). Dr. Bhushan further opined that Plaintiff
demonstrated “poor” abilities for following work
rules, dealing with the public/supervisors/co-workers,
working at a consistent pace for acceptable periods,
maintaining attention and understanding, remembering and
implementing simple, detailed or complex instructions (Tr.
psychotherapy notes from 2014 reflect Plaintiff had diagnoses
of bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, treated
with psychotropic medications (Tr. 973-83). Sources treating
various physical conditions occasionally commented on
Plaintiff's mental health as well. For instance, on March
31, 2014, Plaintiff was seen by a pulmonary doctor who noted
that Plaintiff's ADHD and bipolar disorder were
“stable on treatment.” (Tr. 1728). Plaintiff also
received treatment from Tennessee Valley Pain Management and
during an examination on June 30, 2014, he reported no
depression and was noted to have a normal gait (Tr. 959-60).
21, 2014, a non-examining, state agency psychological
consultant, M. Candice Burger, Ph.D., found that Plaintiff
had moderate difficulties in concentration, persistence, or
pace, and mild limitations in social functioning and
activities of daily living (Tr. 93-94).
was referred to Chattanooga Neurology and examined by Matthew
Kodsi, M.D., on May 22, 2014, who found Plaintiff's
memory was mildly impaired, but his attention and
concentration were intact (Tr. 901-05). Dr. Kodsi opined
Plaintiff had “mild cognitive impairment” (Tr.
904), and referred Plaintiff to a consulting
neuropsychologist, Robert Catanese, Ph.D. (Tr. 1118).
physical limitations, Larry McNeil, M.D., concluded Plaintiff
could work at the light level on June 25, 2014 (Tr. 95).
31, 2014 examination report signed by Dr. Bhushan notes
Plaintiff was oriented and focused with intact memory (Tr.
August-September 2014, the Plaintiff underwent the
consultative neuropsychological evaluation with Dr. Catanese
(Tr. 1118-22). Dr. Catanese reported a diagnostic impression
of dementia, mild to moderate severity, and bipolar disorder,
by history (Tr. 1121). He opined that due to a combination of
physical, emotional, and cognitive difficulties, Plaintiff
would not be able to work an eight-hour workday or 40-hour
week (Tr. 1121). More specifically, during testing Plaintiff
exhibited moderate impairments in memory and severe
impairments in concentration (Tr. 1116). Dr. Catanese
concluded these tests results indicated a high-degree of
cognitive impairment and inefficiency with observed deficits
particularly in short-term memory, visual motor integration
skills, higher level functioning skills and certain aspects
of language skills (Tr. 1121). Dr. Catanese opined that
Plaintiff's cognitive efficiency could improve if his
chronic pain and abdominal issues resolved (Tr. 1121).
September 8, 2014, Brad Williams, M.D., another
non-examining, state agency psychological consultant, agreed
with the determination that Plaintiff had moderate
difficulties in concentration, persistence, or pace, but also
found Plaintiff had moderate difficulties in social
functioning (Tr. 115-16). Both consultants concluded
Plaintiff should have only “casual encounters”
with the public in the workplace and could adapt only to
“gradual changes” in the workplace environment
(Tr. 93, 113, 115, 120-21).
physical limitations on September 8, 2014, Reeta Misra, M.D.,
concluded Plaintiff could perform work at the light
exertional level, and that some of his symptoms were
contradictory and not supported fully by the medical evidence
of record (Tr. 117-19).
February 5, 2015 examination with Dr. Bhushan, Plaintiff was
evaluated as depressed, but found to have normal thoughts and
associations, he had intact memory, he was oriented and able
to focus, his judgment was good, and his affect was
appropriate (Tr. 1196). Dr. Bhushan again examined Plaintiff
on May 7, 2015, and noted that Plaintiff had appropriate
affect, good judgment, good insight, and was oriented with
focused concentration (Tr. 1649).
was hospitalized between May 30 and June 3, 2015, for bipolar
disorder with depression and psychosis (Tr. 1351). Records
reflect he was seen in the Emergency room May 29 for suicidal
ideation/stating he did not want to live while carrying a
pair of scissors (Tr. 1667-68, 1724-25). After medications
and therapy, Plaintiff stabilized and, at discharge, he had a
brighter mood and affect, had clear thoughts, and denied
self-harm ideas (Tr. 1351-52).
8, 2015, Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Bhushan
post-hospitalization and Dr. Bhushan noted Plaintiff's
mood was “starting to stabilize, ” and Plaintiff
was noted to be euthymic, with appropriate affect, good
judgment and insight, and was oriented and focused, with an
intact memory (Tr. 1653-55). A July 7, 2015 note from a
therapist at Behavioral Health notes Plaintiff stated he was
depressed with suicidal ideations, had panic attacks, and
“thoughts about ‘God taking him now'”
(Tr. 1665, 1680).
pain management appointment on July 20, 2015, Plaintiff
reported improved pain with medications and rest, reported
anxiety but no depression, and was observed to have normal
gait and normal mood and affect (Tr. 1408-11).
Mayo Clinic evaluated Plaintiff's chronic pain syndrome
and, in a report dated October 19, 2015, noted Plaintiff was
in no acute distress but had deconditioning throughout
strength testing of the bilateral upper and lower extremities
(Tr. 1749). No. definitive cause for his pain was diagnosed,
but he was reported to have chronic widespread pain and
chronic use of opioids for pain (Tr. 1749). A pain
rehabilitation program was recommended (Tr. 1749-50).
video hearing, Plaintiff and a vocational expert testified
(Tr. 28-58). The Court has carefully reviewed the transcript
of the testimony.
ELIGIBILITY AND THE ALJ'S FINDINGS
Social Security Act defines a disability as the
‘inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.'”
Schmiedebusch v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 536 F.
App'x 637, 646 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A)); see also Parks v. Soc. Sec. Admin.,
413 F. App'x 856, 862 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A)). A claimant is disabled “only if
his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such
severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work,
but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy.”
Parks, 413 F. App'x at 862 (quoting 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(2)(A)). The Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) determines eligibility for disability
benefits by following a five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The five-step process provides:
1) If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, the
claimant is not disabled.
2) If the claimant does not have a severe medically
determinable physical or mental impairment-i.e., an
impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or
mental ability to do basic ...