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Crow v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 22, 2018

Scott Crow, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Mac Schneider, for Plaintiff.

          Linda Green, Assistant Regional Counsel, Social Security Administration, for Defendant.



         Plaintiff Scott Crow seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner (“Commissioner”) of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”), who denied his application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The parties have submitted cross motions for summary judgement. See ECF Nos. 12 and 14. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED and the case is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.


         Crow applied for disability insurance benefits (“DIB') under Title II of the Social Security Act on February 27, 2013. Administrative Record [hereinafter “AR”] 10, ECF No. 10. Crow alleges his disability began on July 19, 2010. AR 231-32. Crow's application was denied initially on August 9, 2013, and on reconsideration on February 3, 2014. AR 122-27, 129-32. An administrative hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Hallie Larsen on October 30, 2014. AR 133-34. A supplemental hearing was held on February 9, 2015. AR 38- 58. On March 30, 2015, the ALJ denied Crow's application for DIB and found that Crow was not disabled. AR 10-11. On June 24, 2016, the SSA Appeals Council denied Crow's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision final for purposes of judicial review. AR 1-6; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. On August 22, 2016, Crow commenced this civil action, seeking an award of benefits, or alternatively, reversal and remand for further proceedings. ECF No. 1 at 2.


         A. Background

         Crow was fifty years old when he filed his application for DIB. AR 231-32. Crow claims the following severe impairments prevent him from securing and maintaining competitive employment: history of cervical and lumbar strain; cognitive disorder; major depression; and post-traumatic stress disorder. AR 13, 231-37. Crow's past relevant work experience includes jobs as a semi-truck driver and milk-truck driver. AR 28, 398.

         B. Medical Opinion Evidence

         On July 19, 2010, Crow was involved in a motor vehicle accident resulting in a closed head injury. AR 412-23, 924. Following the accident, Crow was admitted to CentraCare in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and image testing was performed. AR 414. The image testing failed to demonstrate any acute fractures. Id.

         On August 23, 2010, Crow presented to Sanford Neurology for a consultation. AR 451. Crow presented with complaints of loss of consciousness and a head injury, consistent with post-concussive syndrome. Id. In September of 2010, Crow had a brain MRI performed. Id. The results showed a venous angioma in the right frontal lobe. AR 414. In October of 2010, it was noted that he had a significantly depressed mood and flat affect with intermittent bouts of irritability. AR 460. Crow was noted to have full motor strength, intact coordination, normal gait, intact sensation, full orientation, intact memory, clear but reduced speech, intact knowledge, normal attention, intact comprehension, and significant psychomotor slowing. AR 451-58. Crow was diagnosed with post-concussive syndrome with possible post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) or depression, and was advised he would benefit from a consultation with a psychiatric specialist regarding his ongoing mental-health challenges. AR 462.

         1. Psychiatric Treatment

         Dr. Morris Hund first treated Crow at a psychiatric evaluation on December 17, 2010. AR 542-46, 924. Crow reported that since the accident, he had been very moody, depressed, had crying spells, would wake up irritable, had variable appetite, poor motivation, low energy, decreased concentration, and poor memory. AR 542. Dr. Hund noted that Crow had normal speech and thoughts, intact associations, no evidence of psychosis, fair insight, full orientation, intact remote memory, some difficulties with short-term memory, fair attention, intact knowledge, depressed mood and affect, and no thoughts of self-harm. AR 544. Crow was diagnosed with moderate major depressive disorder, probable PTSD, and a cognitive disorder not otherwise specified. AR 545.

         In August of 2011, Crow underwent a psychological evaluation at Sanford Neurology with Dr. Jeffrey Leichter for determination of individual psychotherapy. AR 24-29. Crow was diagnosed with moderate major depression, a cognitive disorder otherwise not specified, and a rule out diagnosis of PTSD with a global assessment of functions (“GAF”) score range of 55 to 60, suggesting moderate symptoms and limitations. AR 569.

         Dr. Hund treated Crow regularly over the next four years. See AR 426-29; 542-54; 561- 64; 571-73; 604-07; 615-18; 635-38; 647-54; 659-62; 671-74; 922-23. Crow was also seen regularly for psychiatric medication management. See, e.g., AR 571, 586, 589. Over this time period, Crow experienced some improvement with functioning. AR 551. In December of 2011, Crow's GAF score was 68, suggesting mild to slight symptoms and limitations. AR 590. He was cooperative, engaging, had intact judgement and reasoning, and “a little sad” mood. Id. In January of 2012, Crow's GAF score was 70, suggesting mild to near slight symptoms and limitations, and he reported his mood was better and that he was staying busy cutting wood and getting outside more often. AR 596, 604.

         In February of 2012, Crow's wife noted she felt he was doing better with an increased dose of Paxil, and Crow reported to have more motivation, better mood, was joking more, was less irritable, and sleeping better at night. AR 615. In March of 2012, Crow's wife reported his moods had been relatively stable and he was working at a family farm two to six hours a day. AR 621. Crow's interactions with his psychologist were also noted to improve and he had better eye contact. Id.

         In April of 2012, Crow reported stable mood and his wife noted that he was markedly better than when he first started sessions. AR 625. Dr. Hund noted his progress was likely going to be slow and he might never return to his baseline functioning prior to the accident. AR 625.

         On March 30, 2012, Crow underwent an Independent Medical Examination with Dr. Scott Yarosh. AR 1023-31. Dr. Yarosh indicated he took into account Crow's defense mechanisms, underlying personality features, and previous life experiences that contributed to Crow's personality development in order to determine what components of Crow's reaction to stress were related to a pre-existing predictable personality feature rather than the event itself. AR 1031. Dr. Yarosh found Crow's lack of coping skills at the time of the accident explained the protracted recovery and the alleged ongoing impairments. AR 1029. He indicated Crow appeared to have a lack of motivation to return to work and an exaggeration of what he deemed to be impairing physical symptoms. AR 1031. He also stated there was no reason Crow was precluded from working with vocational rehabilitation and seeking employment as long as he was working with a therapist who emphasized Crow's strengths. AR 1030. In June of 2012, Crow was noted to have an improved mood, until he heard about being cut off from Worker's Compensation. AR 635.

         On July 17, 2012, Crow underwent an independent medical examination with Dr. Paul Cedarberg. AR 1032-37. Dr. Cedarberg reviewed Crow's medical records and found that he had some degenerative changes at ¶ 5-6 with no evidence of acute changes. AR 1033. Crow complained of pain in his neck at any range of motion. AR 1034. Dr. Cedarburg found that there were no objective or diagnostic findings that could correlate to Crow's subjective symptoms and indicated Crow showed some signs of secondary gain with a lack of motivation to return to work. AR 1037. Crow was diagnosed with resolved cervical and lumbar strains. AR 1034-35.

         In September of 2012, Crow reported his mood had been stable since his last visit. AR 657. Crow was noted to have a flat affect, occasionally joked, but was still having problems with irritability and frustration. Id. In December of 2012, Crow was noted to joke with his psychologist, reported an improved mood, and was able to track conversation. AR 669. Crow's wife reported that he was totally different from the first time he was seen, was doing much better, and had made progress. AR 671. Dr. Hund agreed, and indicated each time he examined Crow he felt he had made improvement. Id.

         In May of 2013, Crow agreed to meet with a psychiatrist monthly. AR 685. In June of 2013, Crow claimed he had persistent pain and chronic fatigue, but had yet to follow up for a sleep study or see a new primary care doctor for his pain. AR 689. In July of 2013, Dr. Hund noted Crow's progress has been somewhat stabilized. AR 849. In August of 2013, Crow reported that he was performing work on the family farm, and would sometimes entertain friends. AR 858. In September of 2013, Crow reported having ongoing fatigue problems and was again advised to have a sleep study performed. AR 862. In October of 2013, Dr. Leichter noted that Crow's work on his family's farm was suitable for structuring his time and proved valuable to his purpose and feelings of competency. AR 873. In March of 2014, Crow returned to Dr. Hund and reported mood swings dependent on the level of stress he was having. AR 987.

         In May of 2014, Crow was examined by Dr. Donald Pruessler. AR 990. Crow was noted to have intact attention, normal speech, intact language ability, no thought disturbances, intact associations, no evidence of psychosis, fair and inconsistent judgement and insight, impaired memory, impaired fund of knowledge, dysphoric mood, and constricted effect. AR 991. In July of 2014, Crow's wife reported he had been doing better, was spending more time outside, and was sleeping better, but still had variable irritability and low energy. AR 999.

         In October of 2014, Crow saw Dr. Hund at the Fargo Veterans Administration. AR 963- 65. Crow was alert and attentive, had cooperative behavior, down mood, and bland affect. AR 964. Crow continued to follow through with Dr. Hund through February of 2015. AR 1093-115. The most recent mental status examination observations indicate Crow had bland affect, normal speech, cooperative behavior, appropriate grooming, no evidence of psychosis, coherent thoughts, normal thought processes, fair insight, fair to good judgement, and intact memory. AR 1097.

         C. ...

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