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Coffey v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 24, 2019

Timothy Coffey, Plaintiff,
Andrew M. Saul, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Honorable Bruce G. Macdonald, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Currently pending before the Court is Plaintiff’s Opening Brief (Doc. 18). Defendant filed his Brief (“Response”) (Doc. 22), and Plaintiff filed his Reply (Doc. 23). Plaintiff brings this cause of action for review of the final decision of the Commissioner for Social Security pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The United States Magistrate Judge has received the written consent of both parties, and presides over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Rule 73, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         On March 28, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed a Title II application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and on January 23, 2015 filed a Title XVI application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), with both applications alleging disability as of January 25, 2009 due to bipolar disorder, agoraphobia, anxiety and panic disorder, and Hidradenitis suppurativa. See Administrative Record (“AR”) at 27–29, 56, 115–16, 123–24, 136–37, 215, 222, 245, 249, 277, 280, 307. The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied this application on September 9, 2014. Id. at 27, 114–20, 149–51. On January 23, 2015, Plaintiff filed a request for reconsideration, and on April 24, 2015, SSA denied Plaintiff’s application upon reconsideration. Id. at 27, 121–57. On June 16, 2015, Plaintiff filed his request for hearing. Id. at 27, 160–61. On May 15, 2017, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Lori L. Freund. Id. at 27, 52–113. On August 17, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. AR at 24–45. On October 5, 2017, Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ’s decision by the Appeals Council, and on June 7, 2018, review was denied. Id. at 1–3, 214. On July 26, 2018, Plaintiff filed this cause of action. Compl. (Doc. 1).

         B. Factual History

         Plaintiff was forty-three (43) years old at the time of the administrative hearing and thirty-five (35) at the time of the alleged onset of his disability. AR at 27, 43, 52, 114, 121, 123, 136, 215, 222, 245, 277, 307. Plaintiff obtained a high school diploma. Id. at 43, 114, 121, 250. Prior to his alleged disability, Plaintiff worked as a department manager at Costco. Id. at 91–93, 250, 255–56.

         1. Plaintiff’s Testimony

         a. Administrative Hearing

         At the administrative hearing, Plaintiff testified that in 2009 he left work at Costco Wholesale and went on Short-Term Disability. AR at 72–73. Plaintiff was on Short-Term Disability for six (6) months and treated by his primary care physician, Dr. Stanley Ling. Id. at 73. Plaintiff testified that he was subsequently approved for a twelve (12) month term of Long-Term Disability. Id. Plaintiff further testified that his Long-Term Disability ended in June 2010. Id. at 75. Plaintiff also testified that his medical insurance ended at that time and he did not apply for State assistance. Id. Plaintiff testified that although he was seen by Jim Harden, a mental health counselor, for approximately two (2) years, he was unable to obtain records from that time. AR at 76–77. Plaintiff estimated that he ceased seeing Mr. Harden in April 2012. Id. at 78.

         Plaintiff testified that his drinking became a problem in December 2013. Id. Plaintiff estimated that he was drinking somewhere between seven (7) and twelve (12) or thirteen (13) shots of alcohol per day. Id. at 79. Plaintiff further testified that he went into treatment in December 2014. Id. Plaintiff noted that he sought treatment because he realized that his drinking had become a progressive problem that would not improve. AR at 79–80. Plaintiff also indicated that his wife at the time was a heavy drinker. Id. at 80.

         Plaintiff testified that he stopped therapy in September 2015 because he was uninsured and reliant on his parents for housing. Id. at 81. Plaintiff further testified that shortly thereafter he applied state benefits. Id. at 82. Plaintiff also testified that at the time of the hearing he was receiving food and medical assistance. Id. at 82. Plaintiff testified that he did not have a good reason for not seeking treatment beyond difficulty leaving the house or motivating to make a telephone call. AR at 82–83. Plaintiff indicated that these issues have grown progressively worse since 2009. Id. at 83. Plaintiff described attempting to reengage with the world by going grocery shopping, but at times has to leave his shopping cart at the store and just leave because he cannot be around people. Id. at 83–84. Plaintiff testified that he is taking an anti-anxiety medication and has an albuterol rescue inhaler. Id. at 84–85. Plaintiff further testified that he had been prescribed antibiotics to help with the Hidradenitis suppurativa, but the course had been completed at the time of the hearing. Id. at 85–86.

         Plaintiff testified that his Hidradenitis suppurativa causes “incredible pain” and “fuel[s] the depression and anxiety” which has resulted in his inability to work. AR at 87. Plaintiff further testified that he has had Hidradenitis suppurativa since he was 13. Id. Plaintiff also testified that the condition has worsened with more frequent outbreaks, larger cysts, and cysts in new places. Id. at 87–88, 91. Plaintiff explained that he managed the condition while working by bringing multiple changes of clothes each day and taking breaks to clean up and change outfits. Id. at 92–94. Plaintiff described the cysts as large, painful, and filled with blood and pus. Id. at 91. Plaintiff explained that aside from antibiotics, Hidradenitis suppurativa treatment includes hot baths or hot compresses. AR at 92. Plaintiff testified that ultimately, he went on disability due to anxiety. Id. at 88–89. Petitioner opined that he believes that his anxiety is exacerbated by the Hidradenitis suppurativa. Id. at 90.

         Plaintiff further testified that because of the combination of depression, anxiety, and pain, he does not socialize beyond his parents and sister. Id. at 94–95. Plaintiff also testified that he had recently had a seizure while driving, but had not yet seen the neurologist for treatment beyond the emergency department. Id. at 95–98. Plaintiff indicated that he is no longer driving as a result of this episode. AR at 98.

         b. Administrative Forms

         i. Function Report-Adult

         On February 11, 2015, Plaintiff completed a Function Report-Adult in this matter. AR 296–303. Plaintiff reported that he lived in a house with his parents. Id. at 296. Plaintiff described his medical conditions as follows:

Extreem [sic] depression, anxiety (panic-attacks), fear of leaving the house. Cannot focus enough to complete minimal tasks around the house. Cannot cope with “surprise or last minute” life situations. Fear of phone calls, doorbell/knock and mail because it might be bad news. I’m easily iratated[sic]/agitated by small things in life that do not bother others.

Id. Plaintiff reported that on good days he tries to help around the house with dishes and laundry, but on most days he isolates himself and tries to read or watch television. Id. at 297. Plaintiff further reported attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings daily. Id. at 297, 300. Plaintiff also reported that he cares for his son and sometimes feeds his parents’ dog. AR at 297.

         Plaintiff indicated that prior to his illness he was able to focus and complete tasks, including managing up to eighty (80) people, run a business, and be in public without panic attacks or fear. Id. Plaintiff reported that now his sleep is irregular, both in ability to go to sleep and its duration. Id. Plaintiff indicated a lack of motivation regarding his personal hygiene, but is capable to attending to all personal care tasks. Id. Plaintiff reported that his parents remind him to take his medication. Id. at 298. Plaintiff further reported that he can prepare simple meals, such as sandwiches and frozen foods. AR at 298. Plaintiff noted that prior to the onset of his condition, he would cook large, complicated meals, but now he cannot focus. Id. Plaintiff also reported that he does his own laundry, does the dishes, and occasionally mows the lawn. Id. Plaintiff indicated that he performs these tasks once or twice per week, and occasionally needs help. Id.

         Plaintiff noted that he goes outside to smoke daily. Id. at 299. Plaintiff further reported that if he goes out for other reasons he walks or rides in a car, but does not drive. AR at 299. Plaintiff also reported that he shops for food two (2) or three (3) times per month, but tries to hurry through the store. Id. Plaintiff prefers to have someone with him when he goes out. Id. Plaintiff reported that he can count change, but cannot pay bills and does not have a checking or savings account. Id. Plaintiff noted that since his condition arose, he was spending money excessively. Id.

         Plaintiff indicated his hobbies include playing guitar, reading, watching television, and playing ball with his sons. AR at 300. Plaintiff reported that he does not do these things often due to a lack of desire or motivation. Id. Plaintiff further reported interacting with his parents and sons and occasional telephone calls. Id. Plaintiff attends church in addition to AA meetings. Id. Plaintiff also reported that he mostly does not want to talk to anyone and is irritable and angry. Id. at 301. Plaintiff reported that his conditions affect his ability to lift, reach, walk, remember, complete tasks, concentrate, understand, follow instructions, and get along with others. AR at 301. Plaintiff described his walking as limited by his Hidradenitis suppurativa, noting that when it flares he can only walk a few feet at a time before requiring a few seconds to a few minutes of rest before continuing. Id. Plaintiff further reported being able to pay attention for a minute or two, but does okay with spoken instruction, while needing to re-check written instructions. Id.

         Plaintiff reported having no trust in the police or court system. Id. at 302. Plaintiff also reported that he has never been fired from a job because he cannot get along with people. Id. Plaintiff indicated that he has difficulty with stress and changes in routine. AR at 302. Plaintiff noted that he wears glasses. Id. Plaintiff listed medications included quetiapine, sertraline, and lamotrigine. Id. at 303. Plaintiff ...

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