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Willis v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division

May 8, 2014



COKE MORGAN, Jr., Senior District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Robert Alfred Willis' ("Plaintiff' or "Willis") Objections to the Report and Recommendation of the United States Magistrate Judge ("Magistrate Judge"). Doc. 16. For the reasons explained below, the Court OVERRULES Haintiff's objections and ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's Report & Recommendation ("R&R"). Doc. 15.


Plaintiff does not object to the recitation of the procedural or factual background of this case contained in the R&R, which sets forth, inter alia, the following facts.

A. Procedural History,

Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") with the Social Security Administration ("SSA") on August 28, 2009, alleging a disability onset date of October 15, 2003. R&R at 1-2. The application alleged that Plaintiff suffered from bipolar disorder, anxiety, and personality disorder. Id . at 2. Plaintiff's application was denied initially, as well as upon reconsideration.[1] Id . Willis then requested an administrative hearing, which was conducted on August 24, 2011. Id . at 2; see also R. 54. At this hearing, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Alfred J. Costanzo ("Costanzo") heard testimony from Willis and his then-girlfriend Angela Corprew ("Corprew").[2] R. 58-83. During the hearing, Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to June 22, 2009, and voluntarily withdrew his request for a hearing on his DIB claim because of the expiration of his disability insured status. R&R at 2; see also R. 78. On September 2, 2011, ALJ Costanzo dismissed the DIB claim and granted Willis SSI benefits. R&R at 2.

On October 4, 2011, Plaintiff requested a rehearing of his DIB appeal, claiming an alleged onset date prior to December 31, 2008.[3] Id . This request was granted on October 5, 2011, and a new hearing was held before ALJ Tom Duann on December 16, 2011.[4] Id .; see also R. at 28. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert ("VE") Linda Augins testified at this hearing. R&R at 2; see also R. 28. On February 17, 2012, ALJ Duann denied Plaintiff's DIB and SSI claims. R&R at 2. ALJ Duann's decision became the Commissioner's final decision on February 12, 2013, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of this decision. Id.

On April 12, 2013, having exhausted his administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed the instant action, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. Doc. 15 at 2-3. The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment, which were addressed by the R&R, filed on March 25, 2014. Doc. 15. Plaintiff filed his Objections to the R&R on April 7, 2014. Doc. 16. Defendant filed her Response on April 16, 2014. Doc. 17. This case is now before the Court for disposition of the R&R.

B. Factual Background

Plaintiff is a forty-seven year old man with a high school education who previously worked in the construction field. R&R at 3. Plaintiff's application for benefits alleges disabilities resulting from bipolar disorder, anxiety, and personality disorder. Id.

i. Medical records

Medical records are sparse between the alleged onset date of October 13, 2003 and Plaintiff's incarcerations ending in June 2009.[5] Id . Records show he was diagnosed on July 1, 2005 with personality disorder, and diagnosed on January 12, 2007 with manic depression. Id . While incarcerated at the Chesapeake City Jail, he began receiving treatment for bipolar disorder. Id . at 4. On September 18, 2008, Plaintiff stated to Luis F. Ignacio, M.D. that "lithium is the only thing that really helps" his bipolar disorder, and also reported to a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor ("CSAC") that the medication was causing hand tremors and that he would stay awake for two to three days at a time before "crashing." Id .; see also R. 317-8. The CSAC noted that "Plaintiff was oriented to person, place and time, was alert, had normal mood and affect, had cooperative motor behavior, and had no harmful ideations." R&R at 4; see also R. 307. On October 23, 2008, Plaintiff reported that the medications were improving his condition and that his behavior was stable. R&R at 4. On January 14, 2009, Plaintiff stated he was doing fairly well, and the medical records indicated he was "stable, calm, and cooperative." Id . On February 25, 2009, Plaintiff again stated he was "doing fine, " but reported medication-related tremors. Id .; see also R. 311. On March 8, 2009, Plaintiff advised of mood problems and shaking related to an adjustment in Plaintiff's medications. R&R at 4. On June 10, 2009, Plaintiff's condition appeared to improve, as treatment notes indicated he was tolerating his medications without any side effects. Id.

Upon his release from jail, Willis sought treatment at the Portsmouth Community Health Center. Id . at 4-5. A psychiatric evaluation was performed on July 13, 2009 by Ali Aziz, M.D. Id . at 5. Dr. Aziz noted Plaintiff's past with substance abuse but that he had avoided illegal drugs for ten years, and abstained from alcohol since his incarceration. Id . Dr. Aziz also reported a "history of extreme agitation, irritability, anger, aggression, violence, and getting into fights, " as well as "episodes of depression, low energy, concentration, interest, and motivation." Id .; see also R. 378. Dr. Aziz also reported past hospitalizations related to these symptoms, and observed Willis to be "restless, anxious, irritable and fidgety, and had slight hand tremors." R&R at 5; see also R. 378-79. While noting he was not suicidal or homicidal nor suffered from delusions or hallucinations, Dr. Aziz did report that Plaintiff could not concentrate. R&R at 5. Follow-up notes from February 8, 2011 indicated "occasional interrupted sleeping patterns, an irritable mood, and medication side effects of dry mouth, tremors, and polydipsia." Id . Progress notes from July 26, 2011 differ somewhat, indicating a "pretty good" mood and affect. Id .; see also R. 402.

Check-off forms from multiple physicians were also sent to the Virginia Department of Social Services ("DSS"). Id . at 5-6. On April 2, 2007, Curtis Bryan, M.D. reported that Plaintiff was unable to work for six months because of his bipolar disorder. Id . at 6. A second form by Dr. Bryan was submitted on August 6, 2007, this time reporting Plaintiff was unable to work for twelve months. Id . Dr. Aziz completed a form on July 13, 2009, reporting an inability of the Plaintiff to work for twelve months because of bipolar disorder and a history of alcohol dependence. Id . A.S. Navarre, M.D. ...

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