United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
WILLIAM L. CAMPBELL, JR. U.S. District Judge
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
STEVEN WHALEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Donald Foster Corley (“Plaintiff”) brings this
action under 42 U.S.C. §405(g), challenging a final
decision of Defendant Commissioner denying his application
for Supplemental Security Income under the Social Security
Act. On February 20, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion for
Judgment [Docket #17]. On January 30, 2018, the case was
assigned to the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636
for Report and Recommendation. For the reasons set forth
below, I recommend that Plaintiff's Motion [Docket #17]
be GRANTED to the extent that the case be REMANDED to the
administrative level for further proceedings.
filed an application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) on February 26, 2013, alleging disability
as of July 3, 2006 (Tr. 189). After the initial denial of the
claim, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, held on
July 16, 2015 (Tr. 30). Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Elizabeth P. Neuhoff presided. Plaintiff,
represented by attorney Carl Groves, Jr., testified (Tr.
36-58), as did Vocational Expert (“VE”) Rebecca
Williams (Tr. 58-64). On September 4, 2015, ALJ Neuhoff found
that Plaintiff was not disabled (Tr. 12-25). On August 31,
2016, the Appeals Council denied review (Tr. 1-3). Plaintiff
filed for judicial review of the final decision on October
born April 13, 1962, was 53 when ALJ Neuhoff issued her
decision (Tr. 25, 189). He completed ninth grade and worked
previously as a machine operator (Tr. 210). His application
for benefits alleges disability resulting from depression,
left eye blindness, and Hepatitis B and C (Tr. 209).
ALJ noted that the amended onset of disability
(“AOD”) was January 29, 2013 (Tr. 37).
then offered the following testimony:
not worked since 2005 or 2006 (Tr. 38). In his most recent
job, he worked as a machine operator, requiring him to lift
50 pounds “all the time” and stand on his feet
for most of the workday (Tr. 38-39). He was precluded from
using motorized vehicles due to his vision problems (Tr. 39).
He stopped working after breaking four toes and sustaining a
hairline fracture of his leg bone in a workplace accident
(Tr. 40-41). He had been offered accommodated work by his
employer, but experienced difficulty keeping up with the
modified position (Tr. 42).
stood 5' 10" and weighed 161 pounds (Tr. 42). He was
right-handed and lived with his wife of 18 years (Tr. 43). He
declined to drive due to medication side effects (Tr. 43). He
visited his aunt regularly prior to her death the previous
year but was unable to offer her any assistance due to
physical limitations (Tr. 44). He was unable to sit through
an hour-long church service (Tr. 44). He used to fish but now
did not have any hobbies (Tr. 45). He spent his day staying
indoors and watching shows on broadcast television (Tr. 45).
He did not use a computer and did not have a Facebook page
(Tr. 45). He had cut back but had not quit smoking (Tr.
was unable to work due to “deteriorating bone
disease” but was unable to obtain treatment due to
financial limitation (Tr. 46-47). He saw a psychological
counselor every two weeks and a psychiatrist every three
months (Tr. 47). He took anti-psychotic medication (Tr. 48).
He experienced the occasional medication side effects of
auditory hallucinations (Tr. 48). He left school after eighth
grade and was was able to read and write simple words (Tr.
48-49). His wife took care of the household finances (Tr.
50). Their income was limited to his wife's disability
income, and he had not received unemployment benefits or
Workers' Compensation (Tr. 51). Plaintiff's food
preparation was limited to microwaving prepared food (Tr.
51). His wife took care of the housework and laundry chores
response to questioning by his attorney, Plaintiff reiterated
that he heard voices, adding that he began hearing voices
after receiving an increased dosage of Seroquel (Tr. 53). He
experienced problems focusing (Tr. 53). He denied marijuana
use for the past 10 years and alcohol use for the past 20
(Tr. 54). He was currently prescribed Morphine, adding that
he was able to afford the medication due to a “Script
Express card” at the local pharmacy (Tr. 55). Morphine
caused the side effects of dizziness and blurred vision (Tr.
55). He experienced level “eight” pain on a scale
of one to ten (Tr. 56). He had been prescribed a cane in 2005
and continued to use it due to back and leg pain (Tr. 57).
Due to foot cramps, he was unable to walk for more than 10
minutes at a stretch (Tr. 57).
Records Related to Plaintiff's Treatment
September 26, 2012, case manager/counselor Mark Blaylock
listed going fishing once a month and caring for
Plaintiff's grandchildren as “objectives” in
pursuant of improved mental health (Tr. 558). October, 2012
records by Larry L. Turner, M.D. show that Plaintiff received
a refill of Morphine (Tr. 491). Dr. Turner noted
Plaintiff's report of “throbbing” lower back
pain (Tr. 510). Plaintiff reported good results from
medication (Tr. 510). A physical examination was wholly
unremarkable (Tr. 512). He exhibited an appropriate mood and
affect (Tr. 512). Mental health goals for November, 2012
included qualifying for disability, managing physical health
problems, and managing anxiety and thought disorders (Tr.
565, 567). Plaintiff reported depression due to a recent
denial of disability benefits (Tr. 566). Plaintiff canceled a
psychological counseling session at the end of the following
month because he and his wife had to babysit four of their
six grandchildren (Tr. 576).
2013 records note prescriptions for Oxycodone, Xanax, Celexa,
Morphine, and Seroquel (Tr. 492, 496). Notes from the same
month note diagnoses of Hepatitis, low back pain,
osteoarthritis, anxiety, depression, chronic pain syndrome,
and degeneration of “thoracic or lumbar intervertebral
disc; lumbar or lumbosacral intervertebral disc” (Tr.
496-497). A physical examination was unremarkable (Tr. 515).
Notes from later the same month state that Plaintiff reported
daily depression (Tr. 580). Mr. Blaylock noted that when he
arrived for a home visit the same month, Plaintiff was fixing
his car in the rain but “had to quit due to back and
leg pain as well as fear of catching pneumonia” (Tr
583). Mr. Blaylock's notes from the appointment state
that he brought Plaintiff “some food supplies . . .
(potatoes) to make his food stamps stretch a little further
[for the] month” (Tr. 585). February, 2013 counseling
notes state that Plaintiff was forced to forego medical
treatment so that he could fix his car (Tr. 585). Counseling
notes from the next month state that Plaintiff experienced
transportation limitations due to the inability to afford gas
(Tr. 594). He reported that he had been so “depressed,
worried, and sick” that he had not been able to
“get out of bed” (Tr. 594). The same month, he
missed an appointment due to visiting a sister who was dying
of cancer (Tr. 605, 607). April, 2013 records state that he
had missed several sessions because he had been
“helping to take care of” his aunt who was dying
of cancer (Tr. 597).
same month (January 2013), Dr. Turner re-prescribed pain
medication (Tr. 616). A physical examination was once again
unremarkable (Tr. 617-618). A July, 2013 physical examination
by Dr. Turner was unremarkable (Tr. 622-623). August, 2013
mental health treatments note an abnormal mood and affect
(Tr. 640). Plaintiff's condition was deemed stable (Tr.
641). He was assigned a GAF of 55 due to a combination of
psychological, physical, and economic problems (Tr. 642). An
October, 2013 physical examination was unremarkable (Tr.
Turner's January, 2014 treatment notes are essentially
identically to his earlier records (Tr. 647-649). A January,
29, 2014 pill count showed under-use of Morphine and overuse
of Oxycondone (Tr. 651). Psychiatric records from April, 2014
note Plaintiff's statement that he was “doing
o.k.” (Tr. 807). April, 2014 medical records note spine
tenderness and a decreased range of motion (Tr. 681).
Counseling records note the death of three individuals
(friends and family) in one week (Tr. 770). Plaintiff
reported that he had “no money to put gas in his
car” (Tr. 708). Blaylock noted that Plaintiff continued
“to struggle with his behavioral goals due to his
constant state of confusion and poor memory” (Tr. 714).
In July, 2014 Dr. Turner made identical findings to those
made in April, 2014 (Tr. 684-685). The same month, Plaintiff
reported that he obtained help to pay the rent and get caught
up on the utility bills (Tr. 729). September, 2014 counseling
records state that Plaintiff attempted to mow grass but
“was not able to stay on his feet because his legs gave
out on him” and he was unable to finish (Tr. 741). In
October, 2014, Plaintiff reported that his back pain was
becoming worse (Tr. 687). November, 2014 counseling records
note an improvement in Plaintiff's psychological
condition but no progress in his physical condition (Tr.
752). Blaylock's notes from December, 2014 state that
Plaintiff had problems managing his pain due to “no
health care insurance and no income” (Tr. 789). In
January, 2015, Plaintiff denied significant medication side
effects (Tr. 691). The same month, psychiatrist Michael D.
Hill, M.D. noted that Wellbutrin caused the side effect of
dizziness (Tr. 825). He described Plaintiff's psychiatric
conditions as neither improving nor worsening (Tr. 822). In
March, 2015, Plaintiff was discharged from care by Blaylock
because his goals were “partially met” (Tr. 798,
857). Plaintiff reported depression due to cancer diagnosis
received by both a brother and sister (Tr. 798). Counseling
records from the following month state that Plaintiff had
“not met” his goal of going fishing once a month
(Tr. 854). May, 2015 counseling records state that Plaintiff
had “not been able to work on social support goals due
to poor health, no money, and depression” (Tr. 843,
852). Records from later the same month state that Plaintiff
had “not had any x-rays or medical attention on his
back since 2000 due to no medical insurance” (Tr. 846).
April, 2013, Thomas Neilson, Psy.D. performed a non-examining
psychological evaluation on behalf of the SSA, finding that
Plaintiff experienced moderate limitation in activities of
daily living, social functioning, and in concentration,
persistence, or pace (Tr. 101-102). In May, 2013, Roy
Johnson, M.D. reviewed Plaintiff's medical history on
behalf of the SSA, noting that Plaintiff's depression was
precipitated by the 2002 death of his daughter (Tr. 612).
Plaintiff reported a prosthetic left eye, right knee pain due
to an old injury, the use of a knee brace, and the need for a
cane (Tr. 612). He also reported radiating lower back pain
due to degenerative disc disease (Tr. 612). Dr. Johnson noted
that Plaintiff was able to get on and off the examination
table without assistance but walked with a limp and was
unable to recover from a squat (Tr. 613-614). Dr. Johnson
observed lumbar spine range of motion limitations (Tr. 614).
He concluded that Plaintiff was limited to lifting 10 pounds
occasionally and was unable to stand or walk for more than
one to two hours in an eight-hour shift (Tr. 614).
June, 2013, Nathaniel Briggs, M.D. completed a non-examining
assessment of Plaintiff's physical limitations on behalf
of the SSA, finding that while Plaintiff experienced a
prosthetic left eye, he did not experience any vision
limitations (Tr. 105). He found that Plaintiff was capable of
lifting 50 pounds on an occasional basis and 25 pounds
frequently; could sit, stand, or walk for six hours in an
eight-hour workday; and could push or pull without limitation
(Tr. 104). He found that Plaintiff was limited to frequent
postural activity (Tr. 104-105). In February, 2014, P.
Jeffrey Wright, Ph.D. performed a non-examining psychological
assessment, finding that Plaintiff experienced moderate
limitation in activities of daily living, social functioning,
and in concentration, persistence, or pace (Tr. 125-126). The
following month, Thomas Thrush, M.D. made findings identical
to Dr. Briggs' June, 2013 findings (Tr. 128-129).