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Knotts v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

July 31, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Plaintiff, Gary E. Knotts, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying his claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under the provisions of Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). In this judicial review, the Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the administrative record to support the Commissioner's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g).

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed his applications for supplemental security income (SSI) and disability insurance benefits (DIB) on July 26, 2011, due to left ankle problems and ADHD. (ECF No. 17, pp. 71-77, 83-89). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of December 30, 2009. (ECF No. 17, pp. 71, 83). His claims were denied initially on September 7, 2011, and upon reconsideration on October 28, 2011. (ECF No. 17, pp. 58-62). An administrative hearing was held on April 24, 2013 in Fort Smith, Arkansas before the Hon. Edward M. Starr, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (ECF No. 17, pp. 259-288). Plaintiff appeared in person and was not represented by counsel, although it was noted that he had sought counsel. (ECF No. 17, pp. 261, 263-264). On May 13, 2013, the ALJ requested the opinion of a Vocational Expert (“VE”), Debra Steele, via mailed interrogatories. (ECF No. 17, pp. 133-139). Dr. Steele completed and signed the form on May 19, 2013. (ECF No. 17, p. 137).

         By written decision dated July 3, 2013, the ALJ found Plaintiff's anxiety and disorder of the ankle to be severe, but that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments. (ECF No. 17, p. 16). After discounting Plaintiff's credibility, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, but he could understand, remember, and carry out only simple, routine and repetitive tasks; respond to usual work situations, routine work changes, and simple, direct, and concrete supervision; and, occasionally interact with co-workers and the public. (ECF No. 17, p. 18). With the assistance of a vocational expert, the ALJ then determined Plaintiff could perform work as a surveillance system monitor, charge account clerk, addressing clerk, and photo copy document preparer. (ECF No. 17, p. 21).

         On November 7, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. On December 16, 2016 the Appeals Council entered an Order adding two exhibits consisting of correspondence from the Plaintiff to the record. (ECF No. 17, p. 10). On the same date, the Appeals Council set aside its earlier denial to consider the additional information, but it again denied Plaintiff's request for review. (ECF No. 17, p. 5). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (ECF No. 1). Both parties have filed appeal briefs (ECF Nos. 10, 12), and the case is ready for decision.

         II. Evidence Presented

         An administrative hearing was held on April 24, 2014. Plaintiff appeared in person without counsel. (ECF No. 17, p. 259). Plaintiff had tried to procure counsel from Binder & Binder, but he was unable to do so before the hearing. (ECF No. 17, p. 263).

         Plaintiff testified that he only made it to the 11th grade in school, and he never completed a GED. (ECF No. 17, p. 262). His most recent long-term employment was with Jensen's Enterprises in 2010. (ECF No. 17, p. 267). He was reportedly let go due to losing tools and tightening drain plugs too tight, both of which he blamed on his psychological impairments. (ECF No. 17, pp. 274-275). Thereafter, he worked at Sonic for a short time but was let go because he was getting orders wrong. (ECF No. 17, p. 275).

         Plaintiff had been incarcerated for battery until approximately one month prior to the administrative hearing. (ECF No. 17, p. 272). He blamed his actions on his failure to take his medication. (ECF No. 17, p. 267). While imprisoned, Plaintiff indicated he was not assigned to work duty because of his ankle and mental impairments. (ECF No. 17, p. 274).

         Plaintiff listed his physical and mental conditions as ADHD and left ankle problems in his Disability Report. (ECF No. 17, p. 94).

         On March 2, 2011, Plaintiff presented at Western Arkansas Counseling and Guidance Center (“WACGC”) for a diagnostic evaluation. (ECF No. 17, p. 142). He complained of significant social discomfort rendering him unable to maintain employment. (Id.). Plaintiff indicated, however, that he had worked successfully for approximately two years changing oil, but he quit when they asked him to train others. (ECF No. 17, p. 144). He also reported difficulty with restlessness, anger, and road rage, as well as having an extensive criminal history involving violence. (ECF No. 17, p. 144). Jerry Stearmen, LPE, completed the exam and offered diagnoses of social phobia and avoidant personality disorder. (ECF No. 17, p. 147).

         On April 4, 2011 Plaintiff went to the WACGC for a diagnostic evaluation with Advanced Practical Nurse Alice Slavens. (ECF No. 17, pp. 148-150). Plaintiff reported irritability and an inability to concentrate that had worsened with age. (ECF No. 17, p. 148). He denied any chronic medical conditions, surgery, or current medication. (Id.). Plaintiff stated that he does not like to be around people, especially crowds. (ECF No. 17, p. 149). Despite having a learning disability and being in special education, he was never tested for ADHD, although he felt he had the symptoms. (Id.). APN Slavens diagnosed ADHD, social phobia, panic disorder with agoraphobia, and avoidant personality disorder, and she prescribed Straterra. (ECF No. 17, p. 150).

         On April 12, 2011, APN Slavens and Dr. Angela Chapman completed a master treatment plan for the Plaintiff. The diagnoses were social phobia, panic disorder with agoraphobia, and avoidant personality disorder. (ECF No. 17, ...

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