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Castle v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Nevada

July 19, 2019

JASON CASTLE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This case involves judicial review of an administrative action by the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's claim for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff filed his Motion for Reversal and/or Remand (ECF No. 19) on April 27, 2017. The Commissioner filed her Cross-Motion to Affirm (ECF No. 22) and Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (ECF No. 22) on June 29, 2017.


         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on March 26, 2012. Administrative Record (“AR”) 234. He also filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income on May 9, 2012. In both applications, Plaintiff alleged that his disability began on June 1, 2011. AR 234-236. The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's claims initially on May 8, 2013 and upon reconsideration on September 11, 2013. AR 175, 186. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) which was conducted on November 17, 2014. AR 192. Plaintiff and a vocational expert testified at the hearing. The ALJ issued her decision on February 27, 2015 and concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled at any time between the date his applications were filed and the date of the decision. AR 52. The Appeals Council denied his request for review on August 11, 2016. AR 2-8. Plaintiff then commenced this action for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         B. Factual Background

         Plaintiff's motion for reversal and/or remand is limited to whether the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of his treating psychiatrist, Dr. Derald Farrimond, who provided a mental medical source statement on October 28, 2014; and whether the ALJ adequately considered the opinion of Dr. L.D. Larson, a psychologist, who performed a psychological evaluation of Plaintiff on March 28, 2013. Accordingly, the Court will focus on the evidence relating to Plaintiff's mental condition, and will discuss his physical impairments to the extent necessary to understand Plaintiff's alleged mental impairments and the ALJ's determination that he was not disabled.

         1. Plaintiff's Disability Reports and Hearing Testimony.

         Plaintiff was born on November 3, 1978. He is 6'1” tall and weighed approximately 190 pounds at the time of his application. AR 105. He is a high school graduate. Plaintiff is married and has 5 children. At the time of the hearing, his two oldest children resided elsewhere. His three youngest children lived with Plaintiff and his second wife. AR 65-66.

         In his April 10, 2012 disability report, Plaintiff listed the following conditions that limit his ability to work: “Diagnosed with a mood disorder;” “Depression, ” and “Back Pain.” AR 276. Plaintiff stated in a May 20, 2012 function report that he had problems remembering things and forgot to do chores and pay bills. AR 293, 300. His wife reminded him to take care of his personal appearance and to take his medicine. He would forget written or spoken instructions. AR 298. His son helped him perform chores. AR 294. He did not cook meals. His wife shopped for groceries and he went out for meals about once a month. He did not go outside often and had a problem with sunlight. AR 295-96. It hurt to move, walk, and sit. The left side of his body was numb and ached. He could not drive. He slept or lay down most of the time. When stressed, he would shake, sweat, or vomit. He had difficulty lifting, squatting, bending, standing, reaching, walking, sitting, kneeling, climbing stairs, completing tasks, concentrating, understanding, following instructions, and getting along with others. He did not like people and avoided authority figures. AR 297-99.

         Plaintiff's wife stated in a May 20, 2012 third-party function report that Plaintiff had memory problems and a hard time concentrating. He became extremely agitated. Plaintiff experienced back pain and had numbness on one side of his body. AR 285. He was no longer able to work in construction because of his back pain, and he was no longer able to operate machinery due to his medication. He slept for days and also stayed awake for days. AR 286. Ms. Castle reminded him to care of his personal hygiene and take his medicine. He wore the same clothes for days, rarely bathed, shaved about once a month, and went days without eating. He rarely performed chores. Plaintiff met basic requirements for helping with their children. Ms. Castle stopped encouraging him to go outside because he became aggressive towards other people. He had one friend who visited him. AR 287-89. Plaintiff had a poor memory and often did not know what day it was. When he started a task, he rarely finished it. He did not have any hobbies. He isolated himself from others. Plaintiff believed that people were talking about him. AR 290.

         Plaintiff's wife completed another third-party function report on August 17, 2013. She stated that Plaintiff's depression had become worse due to his physical pain and feelings of worthlessness. He was paranoid and distrusted authority figures. His aggressive behavior toward others had also worsened. AR 326. In his August 17, 2013 function report, Plaintiff stated that when he woke up, he took his medications, and then sat and cried. AR 327. When he was challenged, he hurt other people. He was required to take anger management classes. AR 332. He could not calm down when he was stressed. He was unable to follow written or spoken instructions because he forgot them.

         Plaintiff testified at the hearing that he worked as general manager at Domino's Pizza for two and a half years and oversaw ordering, delivering, hiring, firing, and overseeing all operations of the restaurant. He had to lift about 40 to 50 pounds in that job. AR 67. He also worked at Papa John's Pizza and had the same type of duties. In 2002, he worked as a long- distance salesman. AR 68. He worked as a car salesman for less than 6 months. In 2003, he worked as a truck loader and was required to lift about 70 pounds. AR 69. From 2004 to 2005, he performed freeform concrete work and was required to lift about 60 pounds. AR 70. He worked as a foreman for an underground construction company from 2005 to 2006 and as a foreman for another construction company from 2006 to 2008. He was required to lift 60 pounds in both jobs. AR 71. He worked on and off as a process server from 2005 to 2009. AR 73, 301. In 2008, he worked as a furnace assistant and kiln furnace operator. In this job, he was required to lift 40 pounds and stand 10 to 12 hours a day. AR 72-73.

         Plaintiff testified that he was unable to perform any work because he has extreme difficulty waking up, had low back problems, and was mentally compromised. He could barely stand or walk for three to seven days during a month and had trouble carrying loads of 15 pounds or more. He became nauseous and could not leave his home. AR 74-75. He occasionally drove an automobile. AR 76. His wife woke him up between noon and 1:00 pm, and he watched their children between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm. He would then take a nap. He sometimes tried to cook dinner, but did not wash the dishes. He delegated household chores to his children. AR 78. He did not engage in any outside activities and had no hobbies. AR 79.

         Plaintiff had difficulty writing and reading, understanding questions and gathering his thoughts. He suffered from depression and anxiety. He could not sit for long periods of time and his legs went numb. He could only stand comfortably for 15 minutes. AR 80. He felt sharp pains in his back that traveled down into his hip and left leg. He could walk about 300 feet before needing to stop and rest. He had difficulty going up and down stairs, and reaching above his head with his left arm. AR 81. He could not squat and had difficulty picking up items from the ground. He sometimes used a cane. He used a walker at home approximately one week a month. AR 82. Plaintiff testified that he showered about once or twice a month. He changed his clothes infrequently. He took Vanlafaxine, Gabapentin, Hydroxyzine, and Bupropion which made him feel groggy. His medications also made him feel aggressive and he had unprovoked thoughts about physically harming loved ones. AR 84. He did not have any friends and did not leave his home very often. AR 85.

         2. Vocational Expert's Testimony

         The vocational expert testified that Plaintiff's past work as a kiln burner helper was classified as medium work under the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”). The job as performed by Plaintiff, however, was heavy work. AR 91. His past work as a process server was classified as light work, but was medium work as performed by Plaintiff. His past work in construction was comparable to that of a cement mason, which is classified as heavy work under the DOT. Plaintiff's work as a fast food service manager was classified as light work, but was medium work as performed by Plaintiff. AR 91-93.

         The ALJ asked the vocational expert to assume a hypothetical individual of the same age, education, and background as Plaintiff. The individual could occasionally lift 100 pounds, frequently lift 50 pounds, sit or stand and walk for six hours of an eight hour day with no restrictions regarding forward bending at the waist, squatting, kneeling, reaching, pushing, pulling, grasping, or fine manipulation with the hands. The vocational expert testified an individual with these limitations could perform Plaintiff's past jobs. AR 93.

         The ALJ next asked the vocational expert to assume an individual who could occasionally lift 20 pounds, frequently lift 10 pounds, and stand and sit for six hours. The individual could never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, but could frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The individual could not be exposed to hazards such as machinery or heights. The vocational expert testified that an individual with these limitations could perform Plaintiff's previous job as a process server. He would also be able perform Plaintiff's past job as fast food service manager as it is generally performed, but not as actually performed by Plaintiff. AR 94. The ALJ asked if there were other jobs available in the national economy that the individual could perform. The vocational expert testified that the individual could work as an inspector, hand packer, cleaner/ housekeeper, or router. AR 99. The vocational expert acknowledged, however, that the jobs of inspector, hand packer, cleaner/housekeeper, and router required bilateral use of extremities. These jobs would be eliminated if the individual could not use his left hand. AR 100. An individual with this additional limitation could, however, work as a counter clerk, election clerk, callout operator, or surveillance system monitor. AR 101. Sedentary jobs would be eliminated, however, if the individual could not move from one task to another. AR 102.

         The vocational expert testified that the hypothetical individual would not be able to perform any work if he would miss work two or more days per month, or would be off task fifteen percent or more of the workday. AR 95. All employment would be eliminated if the individual was unable to remember simple instructions, or maintain attention for two hour segments. AR 96. The individual would not be capable of working if he responded aggressively to instructions by a supervisor, was unable to socialize with coworkers, or lost track of conversations with supervisors or the public. AR 98.

         3. ...

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