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Hines v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Western Division

August 3, 2017

Alvin Hines, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, Alvin Hines, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking remand of the decision denying his social security disability benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the decision is remanded.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On March 15, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income benefits, alleging disability beginning June 1, 2006. R. 88, 267. Plaintiff's application was denied initially on September 2, 2010, and upon reconsideration on December 15, 2010. R. 145, 151. An administrative hearing was held on June 5, 2012, and the ALJ rendered a decision in favor of the government on June 29, 2012. R. 12-46, 94-102.

         Plaintiff appealed the decision to the Appeals Council, and submitted additional evidence for consideration. R. 107-09. His request for review was granted, and the Appeals Council vacated the hearing decision and remanded the case for further proceedings on December 18, 2013. Id. To support its position, the Appeals Council cited to the new and material evidence provision of the Social Security Administration regulations (20 C.F.R. § 416.1470). Id. The Appeals Council noted that the new evidence revealed Plaintiff's mental impairments were more severe than originally thought, and upon remand, requested that the ALJ address specific areas, which it listed in bullet point form, to complete the administrative record and issue a new decision. R. 108-09.

         On September 17, 2014, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing to review the Social Security Administration's denial of Plaintiff's request for benefits. R. 47-87. The ALJ acknowledged that Plaintiff's case had been remanded so that his case could be reviewed in light of the additional evidence, which dealt primarily with Plaintiff's mental impairments. R. 50-51.

         At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that the last time he was employed was in 2006 (in Texas), and that he made a living driving a truck at that time. R. 55. When asked about his daily activities, Plaintiff told the ALJ he does not cook because he is “very forgetful, ” and may “forget . . . something on.” R. 59. When the ALJ asked the Plaintiff if he goes to the store for groceries, he stated, “I can't go . . . I don't remember too good . . . I might get lost or something . . . .” R. 60. Plaintiff told the ALJ, “I can stand about 15 minutes” and I can walk “half a block.” R. 57. He further testified that the heaviest thing he can lift is “a gallon of milk.” R. 60. Plaintiff indicated that he uses an inhaler, “Maybe four or five times a day, ” and a nebulizer (at home) four times a day. R. 58. Plaintiff told the ALJ that his sleep is “terrible, ” but also indicated that he takes Seroquel, which helps him sleep better. Id.

         Plaintiff revealed he hears voices, “not regularly but every now and then” and that the voices tell him to “get up . . . move around . . . [and] be quiet . . . .” R. 56-57. He further admitted to having problems being around people. Id. 57. Plaintiff indicated that there were some occasions where he would not leave his apartment for three days because he was “really depressed.” Id.

         During the hearing, the ALJ pointed out that the Plaintiff had “issues with drugs and alcohol before.” R. 61. She asked Plaintiff if he still took drugs and drank alcohol, to which the Plaintiff responded, “No, I don't drink or smoke” and indicated it had been years since he did either of those things. R. 62. Plaintiff confirmed that he was still receiving treatment from Crusader Community Health and Rosecrance treatment centers, which prescribed him medications that treated his breathing issues, and muscle spasms. R. 63.

         During the hearing, the ALJ questioned Clinical Psychologist and Medical Expert, Dr. Michael Carney. R. 64. Dr. Carney told the ALJ that he had reviewed Plaintiff's medical and mental health records and was able to identify Plaintiff's mental impairments that were established in those records. R. 65. Dr. Carney described Plaintiff's impairments as being “schizoaffective.” R. 71-72. He agreed that there was, “some emotional withdrawal and isolation” that was consistent with the record, and that Plaintiff's depressive symptomatology provided evidence of a schizoaffective diagnosis. R. 72-73. Dr. Carney explained that Plaintiff suffered from schizoaffective disorder because “there's some thought disorder as well as some affective disorder.” R. 73. He also recognized that Plaintiff experienced problems with “sleep, appetite, energy, and concentration.” R. 72. Dr. Carney further told the ALJ that Plaintiff's impairments “probably equal[ed] a listing . . . in terms of social functioning and concentration, pace and persistence.” R. 74. He confirmed that if Plaintiff's complaints were credible, his impairments would equal the listing, starting June 2012. Id. at 75-76.

         The vocational expert (VE) testified to Plaintiff's past work, and identified this work (within the last fifteen years) as being medium level unskilled jobs, such as warehouse or DOT laborer, SVP 2, DOT 922.687-058; truck driver, which the VE identified as medium semiskilled, SVP of 4, DOT 905.663-014. R. 80-81. The VE also indicated that examples of unskilled work existed. R. 81. In response to the ALJ's hypothetical, where a person of Plaintiff's age, education and work experience who had no exertional limitations but is limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks and a work environment free of fast-paced production requirements with only simple work-related decision making, few if any changes in the work setting; no more than occasional contact with the public, co-workers and supervisors; and in addition to that must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme temperatures, humidity, environmental and respiratory irritants, the VE indicated that a person with these restrictions would have past work that was available to him. Id. at 81-82. The VE revealed that this person could perform the job of “laborer, stores position, ” but that he could not perform the truck driver's position because “that's not a simple job.” R. 82. The VE further opined that if the hypothetical included having no public contact, but occasional contact with supervisors and co-workers, one job would remain available. R. 82.

         The VE testified that light jobs would be available to Plaintiff if past work was not available under the ALJ's hypothetical. R. 83. The VE stated that “cleaner job, DOT 323.687-014 . . . [and] hand packers, DOT 920.686-038 . . . .” existed. Id. The VE further indicated that at the light unskilled level, laundry workers, DOT 361.687-014, vehicle cleaner, DOT 919.687-014” and dishwashers, DOT 318.687-010 would also be available. R. 83-84. Finally, the VE indicated that if the hypothetical were modified to include a “medium exertion level” with “occasional public contact, ” decreasing the amount of public contact would reduce the number of jobs available by twenty-five percent. R. 84-85.

         On November 20, 2014, Plaintiff's application was denied for the second time. R. 114-138. Plaintiff appealed to the Appeals Council, but his request for review was denied. R. 1-3.

         II. ...

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