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Stites v. Colvin

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

June 25, 2013

RONNIE K. STITES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION

BYRON G. CUDMORE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Ronnie K. Stites appeals the denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income (Disability Benefits) under title XVI of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1381a, 1382c, and 1383(c). Stites has filed a Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 10), and Defendant Acting Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) has filed a Motion for Summary Affirmance (d/e13).[1] The parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to proceed before this Court. Consent to Proceed Before a United States Magistrate and Order of Reference, entered November 1, 2012 (d/e 9). For the reasons set forth below, the Decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

Stites was born on November 26, 1966. He secured a GED. He suffers from plantar fasciitis of the left foot, lower back pain, urinary frequency, obesity, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. R. 31, 54.

Stites received Disability Benefits from 1989 until 2006. The Disability Benefits stopped when Stites began serving a term of imprisonment after his convictions for aggravated DUI and driving on revoked license. He was released 5, 2008, and applied for Disability Benefits on December 8, 2008. R. 14. Stites has no relevant past work history. R. 37-38.

On December 15, 2008, Stites went to Transitions of Western Illinois (Transitions) for counseling. The counselors prepared a case opening assessment at that time. Stites reported that he had problems dealing with other people. He easily got upset, frustrated and angry with others. He also felt depressed. He stated he wanted to learn how to handle his response to other people and to become less depressed. R. 366. Stites did not report having any hallucinations or suicidal ideations. R. 407. Stites reported that he was under the care of Dr. Sanchez for psychiatric reasons in 2006. R. 367. Stites reported that he underwent inpatient psychiatric treatment twice, both more than five years earlier. R. 367. Stites reported that he was divorced and was living with his girlfriend Camillia Jessie. He reported that Jessie had been his girlfriend for three years. He reported that he had daily contact with his 17 year old daughter Caroline. He reported that she did not live with him. R. 411.

The counselors at Transitions assessed Stites to have a flat affect and depressed mood, and guarded demeanor. Stites also showed poor insight and poor judgment. R. 375. The counselors diagnosed Stites with dysthymic disorder; polysubstance abuse, early full remission; and antisocial personality disorder. R. 376. The counselors gave him a Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) score of 45. The counselors noted that Stites had a serious impairment in social and occupational functioning. The counselors further recommended a psychiatric evaluation. R. 378.

On December 18, 2009, Stites' girlfriend Jessie completed a Function Report, Adult Third Party form. R. 198-205. Jessie reported that she had known Stites for three years. Stites lived with her and her ten year old son. She reported that Stites mostly watched television during the day. She cooked and did the household chores for Stites. Stites dressed himself and took care of his own personal care, although he did not shave as often as she would like. He did not need special reminders to care for himself or take medication, except that she had to remind him to shave. He did some household repairs and mowing. She reported that he complained about back pain when he did these chores. He helped discipline her son. She reported that he went shopping with her. He did not go by himself. She reported that he was not able to handle money. She reported that he did not like to socialize and mainly spent his time with her. He spent some time with his daughter. She reported that he had memory problems and could not concentrate all the way through watching a movie. She reported that he followed spoken instructions "pretty good." R. 202.

On December 18, 2008, Stites filled out a Function Report - Adult form. Stites reported that he lived with his girlfriend and her son. He reported that he spent his time watching television and talking on the phone. Stites reported that he had trouble remembering things. He also reported having racing thoughts. He reported that he dressed himself and took care of his own personal care. He reported that he could not prepare meals because he had no patience and could not focus. He reported that he could walk four blocks. He could only pay attention for short periods. He reported that he did not get along with authority figures at all. R. 214-21. Stites reported that his ability to follow spoken instructions was "sometimes good." R. 219.

On January 6, 2009, Stites saw a counselor at Transitions. The counselor talked with Stites about needing to be more social and finding ways to get out more. R. 433. On January 9, 2009, Stites again saw a counselor again at Transitions. The counselor discussed the possibility of seeing a psychiatrist. Stites stated that he was not interested in seeing a psychiatrist at that time. He was happy with his current counseling. R. 430.

On January 10, 2009, state agency physician Dr. Raymond Leung, M.D., performed a consultative physical examination of Stites. R. 355-60. Stites reported having low back pain and decreased memory. Stites stated that he thought the memory impairment came from his past drug use. He reported that he quit all drugs in November 2006. Dr. Leung reported that the medical history was significant for bipolar disease and schizoaffective disorder. Stites did not use a cane or walker to walk. Stites reported that he could walk two blocks and lift five pounds. R. 355. On examination, Dr. Leung stated, "From observation, I do believe that the claimant may have difficulties managing his own funds due to decreased memory." R. 456. Stites was six feet one-quarter inch tall and weighed 268 pounds. Stites walked "slightly slow and stiff." R. 357. Stites extension of the lumbar spine was limited to five degrees. Dr. Leung's impression was low back pain and decreased short term memory. R. 357.

On January 15, 2009, state agency psychologist Dr. Frank Froman, Ed.D., conducted a consultative psychological examination of Stites. Dr. Froman diagnosed schizoaffective disorder and antisocial personality traits. He gave Stites a GAF score of 48. Dr. Froman opined,

CONCLUSIONS: Ronnie appears able to perform one and two-step assemblies at a competitive rate. He is not able to relate adequately to coworkers and supervisors. He understands simple oral and written instructions but because of memory loss, is unlikely to be able to retain oral instruction at all. He is able to manage cash benefits with the assistance of his fiance. It is most unlikely that he would be able to withstand the stress associated with customary employment.

R. 361-64 (emphasis in the original).

On January 23, 2009, Stites saw a counselor at Transitions of Western Illinois, to address problems with anger. R. 432.

On January 28, 2009, state agency physician Dr. Towfig Arjmand, M.D., prepared a Physical Residual Functional Capacity Assessment of Stites. R. 381-87. Dr. Arjmand opined that Stites could lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; stand and/or walk six hours in an eight-hour workday; sit six hours in an eight-hour workday; frequently climb ramp and stairs; occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; and crouch no more than frequently. R. 381-82.

On February 3, 2009, state agency psychologist Dr. Joseph Mehr, Ph.D., prepared a Psychiatric Review Technique Form and a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment. R. 388-405. Dr. Mehr opined that Stites suffered from dysthymic disorder versus schizoaffective disorder; antisocial personality disorder; and alcoholism in remission. R. 391, 395-96. Dr. Mehr opined that Stites had moderate restrictions on activities of daily living, moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning, and moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. Dr. Mehr opined that Stites had no episodes of decompensation. R. 398. Dr. Mehr noted, "He appears to have some difficulty in relating wel (sic) to others, but does have a girlfriend. ADLs indicate he prefers not to socialize, but is able to do simple daily tasks such as chores." R. 400.

Dr. Mehr further opined that Stites was moderately limited in his ability to: understand and remember detailed instructions; carry out detailed instructions; perform activities within a schedule and maintain regular attendance, and be punctual; complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from psychological symptoms; interact appropriately with the public; accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; and respond appropriately to changes in the work setting. R. 402-03.

On February 27, 2009, Stites saw a counselor at Transitions. The counselor discussed situations in which Stites' frustration level increased and how to address these situations and how to address his anger in these situations. The counselor gave Stites an anger worksheet to complete. R. 434.

On March 20, 2009, Stites saw a counselor at Transitions. Stites brought the anger worksheet back with him. The counselor discussed ways to communicate anger effectively. The counselor also prompted Stites to name people he can use as a support group. The counselor noted, "Ronnie was open & responsive to questions. He realizes learning to deal with his anger is very important and that having positive people in his life is crucial to his wellbeing." R. 429.

On April 4, 2009, Stites completed a Function Report - Adult form. R. 245-52. Stites reported that he had difficulties dressing himself and caring for himself. He reported that he had to be reminded to shave, shower, and take his medicine. He reported that he had trouble standing for any period of time. He reported being afraid of people. He reported that he talked to his girlfriend and her son once a day because they lived with him. He reported that once or twice a month he went "to church to eat." R. 249. He reported being in constant pain. He reported that he could walk half a block. He reported that he did not follow spoken instructions well at all. R. 250.

On June 4, 2009, state agency psychologist Dr. Patricia Beers, PhD., affirmed the opinions of Dr. Mehr. R. 444-46.

On August 13, 2009, Stites saw Dr. Ben Wilde, D.O., for back and shoulder pain.[2] Stites also reported having chest pains and shortness of breath once a night before going to bed. Stites reported racing thoughts and feeling anxious. He reported using a cane to walk. His psychiatrist at Transitions, Dr. Valentina Vrtikapa, M.D., changed his medication to try to address his anxiety. Dr. Wilde prescribed physical therapy and stretching exercises for the back pain. R. 449-50.

On October 5, 2009, Stites saw Dr. Wilde for palpitations that had gone on for a month. He reported that they were worse at night. He also reported shortness of breath and chest pain. His EKG was normal. Dr. Wilde diagnosed palpitations. Dr. Wilde also gave Stites trigger point injections for lower back pain. R. 480-81.

On October 28, 2009, Stites saw Dr. Wilde again. Dr. Wilde recommended physical therapy, but Stites refused because he was too anxious to go. Dr. Wilde reported that Dr. Vrtikapa changed Stites' psychiatric medication because the prior medication was causing palpitations. Dr. Wilde diagnosed chronic lower back pain and plantar fasciitis. R. 477-78.

On December 4, 2009, Stites saw Dr. Wilde for a follow-up. Dr. Wilde diagnosed anxiety and shortness of breath. Dr. Wilde indicated that due to his anxiety, ...


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