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Cochran v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

December 28, 2017

TYLER COCHRAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          STACIE F. BECKERMAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Tyler Cochran (“Plaintiff”) brings this appeal challenging the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's (“Commissioner”) denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The Court has jurisdiction to hear this appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), which incorporates the review provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons that follow, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision because it is based on harmful legal error and not supported by substantial evidence.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in June 1985, making him twenty-seven years old on September 24, 2012, the day he filed his protective application.[1] Plaintiff has a General Equivalency Degree (“GED”), and no past relevant work experience. Plaintiff alleges disability due primarily to “social phobias, ” a “conduct disorder, ” oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”), developmental delays, “[l]earning disabilities in written language and math, ” an ability “to print but [not] write in cursive, ” and bipolar disorder. (Tr. 69, 83, 202.)

         On June 8, 2011, a little over a year before the amended alleged disability onset date, Plaintiff appeared for a therapy session with Gina Patriarca (“Patriarca”), a qualified mental health professional. Plaintiff reported that “things [were] going well, ” he “continue[d] to work for his uncle's friend a few times a week” as a landscaper, his symptoms were “stable” and he “liked his medications, ” he did not have “any issues or problems, ” and he was “no longer interested in therapy.” (Tr. 325-26.) Patriarca agreed that Plaintiff no longer needed individual therapy sessions, and noted that Plaintiff made significant progress during treatment: “[H]e used to lay in bed, in the dark, all day long and play video games. He now works, goes to school, can ride the bus, hangs out with friends, has a girlfriend, and gets along with his family.” (Tr. 326.) Patriarca therefore closed the file, noted that treatment was “[s]uccessful, ” stated that Plaintiff's bipolar disorder and anxiety-related symptoms “were successfully reduced” and he was “actively engaged in life, ” and assigned a Global Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”) score of seventy.[2](Tr. 327.)

         On January 10, 2013, Plaintiff was referred to Dr. Daniel Scharf (“Dr. Scharf”), a clinical psychologist, for an intellectual assessment. (Tr. 337-42.) During the examination, Plaintiff “reported his belief that he is capable of working, ” he reported no medical “difficulties, ” and reported that he was “capable of doing the duties” of his last job working as a fast food cook, but added that he “quit the job due to disliking the people at work.” (Tr. 337-39.) Based on his examination, which consisted of a diagnostic interview, mental status examination, review of records, administration of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Fourth Edition (“WAIS-IV”), and brief interview with Plaintiff's mother, Dr. Scharf assigned a GAF of fifty-eight, [3] and found that Plaintiff's “psychological difficulties are relatively well controlled at this time with medication management, ” Plaintiff “exhibited weaknesses on intellectual testing suggestive of relatively significant learning problems, ” Plaintiff “was able to understand and remember instructions and sustain concentration and attention, ” Plaintiff “likely would have difficulties with persistence after 1 to 2 hours, ” and Plaintiff “was able to engage in appropriate social interaction, ” but “has had past difficulties with social anxiety and social avoidance.” (Tr. 337, 342.)

         On January 24, 2013, Dr. Edwin Holmes (“Dr. Holmes”), a non-examining state agency psychologist, completed a psychiatric review technique assessment. (Tr. 76.) Dr. Holmes concluded that the limitations imposed by Plaintiff's mental impairments failed to satisfy listings 12.02 (organic mental disorders), 12.04 (affective disorders), and 12.06 (anxiety-related disorders).

         Also on January 24, 2013, Dr. Holmes completed a mental residual functional capacity assessment form, in which he rated Plaintiff's limitations in each of sixteen categories of mental ability. (Tr. 77-79.) Dr. Holmes rated Plaintiff to be “not significantly limited” in eleven categories and “moderately limited” in five categories. (Tr. 78-79.) Dr. Holmes added that Plaintiff is capable of understanding and remembering one- to two-step instructions, capable of carrying out and maintaining the concentration, persistence, and pace necessary to perform one-to two-step tasks, and needs to be limited to no more than occasional interaction with the public and co-workers.

         On June 27, 2013, Dr. Dorothy Anderson (“Dr. Anderson”), a non-examining state agency psychologist, completed a psychiatric review technique assessment, agreeing with Dr. Holmes' finding that Plaintiff's mental impairments do not satisfy listings 12.02, 12.04, and 12.06. (Tr. 90.)

         Also on June 27, 2013, Dr. Anderson completed a mental residual functional capacity assessment, agreeing with Dr. Holmes' conclusion that Plaintiff is “not significantly limited” in eleven categories of mental ability and “moderately limited” in five categories. (Tr. 92-93.) Dr. Anderson also agreed that Plaintiff needs to be limited to no more than occasional interaction with the public and co-workers, and found that Plaintiff is capable of understanding and remembering simple and routine instructions, capable of carrying out simple and routine tasks, and “[m]ay be able to” understand and remember “well learned moderately complex tasks.” (Tr. 92-93.)

         In treatment records dated January 17, 2014, Dr. David Berner (“Dr. Berner”) noted that Plaintiff was brought to the emergency department “via police for evaluation of aggressive behavior since last night.” (Tr. 491.) Dr. Berner observed that, according to a police report, Plaintiff “self-medicated . . . with marijuana and alcohol” after his “mother was unable to refill one of [his] medications, ” Plaintiff “br[oke] down doors and destroy[ed] the house, ” and Plaintiff was “ready to fight with police.” (Tr. 491.) Plaintiff reported that he had stopped taking Wellbutrin “because it ma[de] him feel like he is on meth, ” but he was taking Lamictal. (Tr. 491.) Dr. Berner counseled Plaintiff to “avoid alcohol” and stated that he doubted that Plaintiff's use of Lamictal (but not Wellbutrin) “created a manic/psychotic state given his improvement.” (Tr. 493.)

         In a treatment record dated March 14, 2014, Jacqueline Beckwith (“Beckwith”), a nurse practitioner, observed that Plaintiff has a history of depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety, that Plaintiff was “doing reasonably well” on his medications, and that Plaintiff was “currently working part time at a job that requires less public interaction and he [was] happy with that.” (Tr. 507.)

         On November 26, 2014, Plaintiff met with Egan Danehy (“Danehy”), a licensed professional counselor, to develop a treatment plan. Plaintiff “shared his unease with starting therapy again” and stated that he did not have “positive experiences in the past.” (Tr. 379.) Danehy noted that Plaintiff's reported symptoms were not “consistent with bipolar disorder, ” ruled out diagnoses of bipolar and autism spectrum disorders, stated that Plaintiff “spends long hours playing video games, ” and diagnosed Plaintiff with an “[a]nxiety disorder [not otherwise specified], cannabis abuse, and alcohol abuse.” (Tr. 371, 380.) Danehy assigned a GAF of forty-eight.[4]

         In treatment notes dated January 8, 2015, Danehy noted that Plaintiff reported that he had not “noticed any benefit” from taking his medications over the past five years, stated that Plaintiff “has regular anxiety when he gets around people, ” noted that Plaintiff has a “history of learning, speech, [and] developmental delays, fine motor delays in writing, academic struggles, social struggles, and [an Individualized Education Plan], ” and assigned a GAF of fifty-one.[5] (Tr. 353, 356.)

         On February 20, 2015, Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 38-66.) Plaintiff testified that he lives with his mom, grandmother, sister, and girlfriend, he smokes ten cigarettes a day, he occasionally drives his girlfriend's car, he has a GED and attended community college for an unspecified period of time, he is able to read, write, add, and subtract, he receives food stamps, he is currently looking for a job, and he last worked at a fast food restaurant, but was terminated because a co-worker who “was friends with the manager didn't like” him and was “bad-mouthing” him. (Tr. 41-46.) Plaintiff also testified that “[n]othing” would prevent him from performing a job that involved “sit[ting] in a parking booth, ” “watch[ing] people go by, ” and “call[ing] 911” if “something bad happen[ed], ” he takes medication because he has “pretty bad dreams” and does not want to “smack [his] girlfriend around [during] any of [those] dreams, ” he does not suffer from physical limitations, he has been dating his girlfriend for five or six years, his hobbies include watching television and playing video games for “an hour and a half” or “two ...


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