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Meeks v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Winchester

April 25, 2018

NANCY M. MEEKS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          SUSAN K. LEE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Nancy M. Meeks (“Plaintiff”) brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denying her disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Each party has moved for judgment [Docs. 12 & 18] and filed supporting briefs [Docs. 13 & 19]. This matter is now ripe. For the reasons stated below, (1) Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings will be GRANTED IN PART to the extent it seeks remand to the Commissioner and DENIED IN PART to the extent it seeks an award of benefits; (2) the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment will be DENIED; and (3) the decision of the Commissioner shall be REVERSED and REMANDED pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         Plaintiff filed her application for DIB in January 2016, alleging disability as of December 1, 2012 (Transcript [Doc. 9] (“Tr.”) 12, 65, 159-60). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration at the Social Security Agency (“SSA”) level. After a hearing, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act (the “Act”) (Tr. 9-21). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner (Tr. 1-5). Plaintiff timely filed the instant action [Doc. 1].

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. Education and Employment Background

Plaintiff was born in June 1973, which made her a “younger individual, ” on the alleged onset date (Tr. 12, 20, 159). Plaintiff has a high school education, is able to communicate in English, and has past relevant work as a house cleaner (Tr. 20).

         B. Medical Records

         In her Disability Report, Plaintiff alleged disability due to the following conditions: “[b]lind” and asthma physical health issues and bipolar, depression, attention deficit disorders, borderline multiple personality disorder, and agoraphobia mental health issues (Tr. 169). Plaintiff's medical records reveal multiple diagnoses including bipolar disorder types I and II, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder traits, mood disorders, agoraphobia, and dysthymic disorder (persistent depression) and extensive treatment for same (e.g., Tr. 235, 257, 262, 435-36, 455, 461, 525). The parties and the ALJ recite many aspects of Plaintiff's various medical records and issues. While all relevant records have been considered, the Court will discuss Plaintiff's medical history and records only to the extent necessary to address the pertinent issues raised in this case.

         C. Hearing Testimony

         The administrative hearing was held on April 18, 2017, and Plaintiff, her ex-husband, and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified (Tr. 26-64). The Court has reviewed the testimony from the hearing. In short, Plaintiff testified that her ex-husband made her get out of bed and take showers because otherwise she did not keep up with her hygiene, that she needed reminders to take her medicine and sometimes to eat, and that she lacks the desire to do anything but stay in her room (Tr. 31). Plaintiff said this behavior had gone on for years but has gotten significantly worse during the last two to three years (Tr. 31-32). Plaintiff has passed out at grocery stores from panic attacks and had three to four times panic attacks per day between June 2014 and her hearing date; her most recent panic attack was at a place of business a few days/weeks prior to the hearing (Tr. 36-41). Plaintiff presented to an emergency room two weeks before the hearing due to a severe panic attack at her home that she mistook as a heart attack (Tr. 41-42).

         Plaintiff claimed to experience auditory or visual hallucinations on a daily basis from June of 2014 through the date of the hearing (Tr. 43-44). Plaintiff testified she is accompanied by someone when she goes out in public, she does not visit anybody, she does not go to church, and she does not participate in other social activities (Tr. 41, 44). Her ex-husband often picks up her medications (Tr. 44). Being in unfamiliar places negatively affects Plaintiff's anxiety causing her to experience sweating, nervousness, difficulty breathing, and crying spells (Tr. 45). She has kept her curtains closed since she was “little” because she feels like somebody is watching her (Tr. 46-47). She believes her anxiety, paranoia, and depression prevent her from leaving her home most days of the week (Tr. 50). Plaintiff s ex-husband essentially confirmed Plaintiff's testimony (Tr. 53-55).

         As pertinent, the VE testified that a hypothetical person who would be absent from work three days a month could not perform Plaintiff's past work or any other work (Tr. 58-59).

         III. ELIGIBILITY AND THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         A. Eligibility

         “The 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 Fed.Appx. 637, 646 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)); see also Parks v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 413 Fed.Appx. 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 Fed.Appx. at 862 (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)). The 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 work activities-the claimant is not disabled.
3) If the claimant has a severe impairment(s) that meets or equals one of the listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations and meets the duration requirement, the claimant is disabled.
4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him or her from doing his or her past relevant work, the ...

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