United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Katherine Menendez, United States Magistrate Judge.
matter is before the Court on the parties’
cross-motions for summary judgment. (Pl.’s Mot. for
Summ. J. (“Pl.’s Mot.”), ECF No. 11;
Def.’s Mot. for Summ. J. (“Def.’s
Mot.”), ECF No. 19.) For the reasons set forth below,
Sergey F.’s (hereafter “Mr. F”) motion for
summary judgment is GRANTED and the Commissioner’s
motion for summary judgment is DENIED.
Factual Background and ALJ Decision
was born in Russia and had a very difficult childhood, which
included severe abuse, exposure to violence within his
family, and other trauma. (R. 402.) He has received a number
of mental health diagnoses over the years, including:
posttraumatic stress disorder; attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder; depression; anxiety; antisocial
personality disorder; and bipolar disorder. Over a
fifteen-year period, he was fired from every job he held
based on his inability to control his behaviors. (R.
344–45, 351, 402.) Mr. F’s issues with anger and
erratic behavior have also significantly strained his
personal and family relationships. (R. 345, 352, 402.)
first filed for disability insurance benefits on February 5,
2015 and Supplemental Security Income on March 13, 2015,
alleging disability beginning on January 1, 2013. (R. 218,
222.) His claims were denied initially and upon
reconsideration. (R. 120, 135.) He timely requested a hearing
before Administrative Law Judge Micah Pharris, which was held
on June 13, 2017. (R. 33.) On July 20, 2017, ALJ Pharris
issued an unfavorable decision. Mr. F timely filed a request
for review to the Appeals Council, which was denied on March
30, 2018. Thus, the ALJ’s decision became the final
determination of the Commissioner, making Mr. F’s case
ripe for review by this Court.
Opinions of Treating Providers
psychiatric hospitalization in February 2013, (R. 341, 346),
Mr. F began psychiatric treatment with Jennifer Wolfe, RN,
CNS, Psychiatric Advanced Practice Nurse. (R. 402.) Mr. F
continues treatment with Nurse Wolfe to this day, and her
care of him includes prescribing and managing psychiatric
medication. (Id.) During her first exam, she
described Mr. F as agitated, easily angered and impulsive,
with a limited and short attention span, a depressed mood,
short-term memory problems, and intense speech.
(Id.) Nurse Wolfe diagnosed Mr. F with impulse
control and bipolar disorders in addition to anger management
issues. (R. at 403.) She later added diagnoses of
intermittent explosive disorder, post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
(ADHD). (R. 376, 397.)
December 17, 2015, Nurse Wolfe noted that Mr. F “may be
at baseline in terms of what medications can do for
him.” (R. 433.) Despite being on several medications to
treat his mental-health conditions, Mr. F experienced ongoing
and severe challenges managing his mood, anger, focus, and
anxiety. (R. 432–33.) Nurse Wolfe noted that Mr. F
“[a]voids leaving the house due to anxiety around other
people, ” and is “[a]bsolutely incapable of
holding a job.” (R. 432.) Even while on his
medications, Mr. F appeared dysthymic and anxious, with
scattered memory and limited attention due to his ADHD. (R.
433.) He was hypervigilant and had abnormal thoughts that
were “bordering of psychotically paranoid.”
(Id.) His PHQ-9 score, which measures the severity
of an individual’s depression symptoms, was 20.
(Id.) Nurse Wolfe “strongly encouraged”
Mr. F to return to psychotherapy, which he did in April 2016.
(R. 434, 462.)
F’s condition worsened over time. On March 22, 2016,
Nurse Wolfe saw Mr. F and noted a “flat and
irritable” mood, with high anxiety, ongoing problems
managing his anger, and trouble with focus. (R. 441.) Mr. F
had severe difficulty sleeping, reporting that he
hadn’t slept for “several days.”
(Id.) His other complaints included an
“inability to be a ‘normal person’ and to
be around other people, shakiness towards the evening,
‘poor memory, ’ [and] zoning out and ending up at
the wrong store.” (Id.) Nurse Wolfe noted that
Mr. F presented as “highly anxious, slightly agitated,
[and] tensely wound.” (Id.) Notably, Mr. F
experienced these challenges despite medication compliance.
(Id.) At another appointment a few weeks later, on
April 12, 2016, Mr. F presented once again as “highly
anxious, dysphoric, [and] blunted.” (R. 444.) This
pattern continued, and Mr. F showed little to no change or
improvement in his symptoms over the following nine months.
(R. 447– 461.)
addition to taking his medication and attending regular
appointments with Nurse Wolfe, Mr. F began seeing David
Schmitt, MSW, LICSW, for psychotherapy. (R. 462.) At his
first appointment in April 2016, Mr. F’s PHQ-9 score
was 20, and his GAD-7 score was 17. (Id.) He was
experiencing severe impairment due to depressed mood and
moderate impairment due to social withdrawal. (R.
464–65.) Additionally, Mr. F consistently reported
social and interpersonal challenges including an inability to
engage socially and “apparent social phobia.”
(See, e.g., R. 498.) Mr. Schmitt’s records
include several examples of Mr. F’s inability to handle
social situations. In May 2016, he had to leave a Twins
baseball game after getting in a fight with his wife. (R.
472.) Around the same time, he had to hide from his
son’s birthday party. (R. 496.) On September 28, 2016,
Mr. F reported that he had gone to the zoo, but
“couldn’t handle it.” (R. 499.) He stated
that after somebody stepped on his toe, he had to leave.
(Id.) That same day, Mr. Schmitt notes that Mr. F.
was “extremely anxious and unable to find relief on a
daily basis.” (Id.)
continued to experience severe mental health symptoms. On
December 19, 2016, Mr. F missed his appointment with Mr.
Schmitt because of an earlier panic attack. He explained that
he had an earlier appointment with Nurse Wolfe, but then got
lost attempting to find his car after the appointment, which
caused the attack. (R. 513.) Nurse Wolfe noted on February
20, 2017 that Mr. F was experiencing fullblown panic attacks
every few weeks when in public, and that his irritability and
depressed mood were “very high.” (R. 531.) On May
23, 2017, Mr. F reported to Nurse Wolfe that he was still
having full panic attacks and experiencing depression and
irritability. (R. 534.) Nurse Wolfe noted that Mr. F smashed
a model boat that he was making. (Id.) These severe
mental-health symptoms continue throughout the time period
covered by the record.
Wolfe provided a three-page medical source statement on
February 14, 2017. She noted a poor prognosis, explaining
that Mr. F was receiving high doses of multiple psychiatric
medications with only limited success. (R. 425.) She rated
Mr. F’s ability to perform a number of work-related
mental activities as “poor, ” with no useful
ability to function, including, inter alia, the
ability to maintain attention and concentration for extended
periods, work with or near others without being distracted by
them, interact appropriately with the public, accept
instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from
supervisors, and complete a normal workday or workweek. (R.
425–426.) She supported these conclusions with
observations from her treatment of Mr. F. (Id.) She
opined that he would be off task for more than 25% of a
typical workday, and that Mr. F’s impairments would
cause him to absent from work more than four days per month.
April 20, 2017, Mr. Schmitt completed a medical source
statement. He also reported a poor prognosis, stating there
had been “no change in years.” (R. 525.) Mr.
Schmitt opined that Mr. F had no useful ability to function
in a number of persistence and pace activities or
work-related activities involving interacting with others.
(R. 525–26.) Like Nurse Wolfe, he determined that Mr. F
would be off task at least 25% of a typical workday and would
be absent from work more than four days per month. (R.
526–27.) Dr. Andrew D. Krueger, a psychological
evaluations specialist who collaborated with Nurse Wolfe and
Mr. Schmitt, completed a psychological evaluation of Mr. F
and performed an extensive record review. (R. 404,
522–23.) He concurred with Nurse Wolfe and Mr.
Schmitt’s opinions in his own medical source statement.
(R. 522.) Dr. Krueger determined that Mr. F has no useful
ability to function in multiple “persistence and
pace” and “interacting with others”
categories. (R. 522–23.) He opined that “[t]he
clinical data support severe cognitive, behavioral, and
psychological functioning [limitations] daily.” (R.
Consultative Examination and Opinions
Donald Wiger, PhD, LP, performed a psychological evaluation
for the Social Security Administration on April 30, 2015.
During the exam, Mr. F reported that he “does not get
along with other people” and “cannot take orders
from other people and does not like being told what to
do.” (R. 413.) He described the difficulties these
anger problems had caused, including fights, being fired from
jobs, difficulty socializing with coworkers and neighbors,
legal problems, and domestic issues. (R. 413–14.) Based
on this exam and a review of Mr. F’s ...