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Evans v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Rock Island Division

November 7, 2016


          ORDER AND OPINION[1]

          Jonathan E. Hawley U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         The Defendant-Commissioner denied the Plaintiff, Bruce Evans, disability and disability insurance benefits, which he alleged began on May 23, 2013. Evans now appeals that denial, and, for the reasons set forth, infra, this Court REVERSES the decision of the Commissioner, GRANTS Evans's Motion for Summary Judgment (D. 10)[2], DENIES the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Affirmance (D. 15), and REMANDS for further proceedings consistent with this Order and Opinion.

         Evans, a veteran of the war in Iraq, was in the Army from 2002 to 2005, and he served a tour in Iraq in 2003. The Veterans Administration (VA), using its own regulations, rated Evans as 90% disabled. The Administrate Law Judge ("ALJ"), who denied Evans disability and disability insurance benefits in his decision, found that Evans had severe impairments of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ("PTSD"), lumbar degenerative disease, and a history of recurrent right ankle sprain. However, the ALJ concluded that notwithstanding these severe impairments, Evans was capable of performing sedentary, full-time work, but with the following limitations to account for his PTSD:

Due to problems with social interaction, he would do best in a socially restricted setting; considering this, any work must not require close sustained interaction with others, including supervisors and coworkers. Any work must not require more than ordinary or routine changes in work setting or duties.

(Tr. 29).

         The focus of Evans's arguments before this Court is the ALJ's evaluation of his PTSD, rather than his physical impairments. This Court will therefore limit its discussion to that issue as well. Specifically, Evans argues that the ALJ failed to properly weigh the medical opinion evidence of his treating psychologist, Howard Levine, Ph.D., or that of Nurse Practitioner Nancy Wolverton ("NP Wolverton") and, having failed to properly weigh those opinions, consequently also improperly weighed Evans's own credibility.

         Dr. Levine, who treated Evans for his PTSD since May of 2012, completed a Mental Impairment Questionnaire summarizing Evans's conditions on August 27, 2014. The doctor diagnosed PTSD and found Evans' had GAF score of 58. Dr. Levine opined that Evans was not a malingerer, and the signs and symptoms of his PTSD included an irritable and labile affect, hostility or irritability, anger, aggressive ideation, adversarial thoughts, difficulty concentrating, easy distractibility, intrusive recollections of a traumatic experience, persistent irrational fears, vigilance and scanning, impulsive behavior, intense and unstable interpersonal relationships, psychomotor agitation, social withdrawal or isolation, perceived danger or risks without evidence, and initial and middle insomnia. In Dr. Levine's opinion, Evans's most frequent or severe symptoms were anger, adversarial thoughts, frequent conflicts with others because of overreaction to risks without evidence, social withdrawal, aggressive behavior, verbal confrontation, and generalized inability to successfully work with others. In support of his diagnoses and assessment, Dr. Levine cited to three years of professional contact with Evans, as well as the results of a compensation and pension examination, and a PCL-S score of 75. Dr. Levine also opined that Evans experiences episodes of decompensation or deterioration in work or work like settings, evidenced by the loss of several jobs due to PTSD inspired irritability and anger, and his withdrawal from college courses secondary to inability to work with faculty and other students. Dr. Levine noted that the symptoms and limitations detailed in the questionnaire were present since May 1, 2013.

         Regarding Evans's functional ability, Dr. Levine opined that Evans is markedly limited in:

• the ability to perform activities within a schedule and consistently be punctual;
• working in coordination with or near others without being distracted by them;
• completing a workday without interruptions from psychological symptoms;
• interacting appropriately with the public;
• accepting instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; and
• getting along with coworkers or peers without distracting them.

         In addition to these marked limitations, Dr. Levine opined that Evans is ...

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