United States District Court, D. Delaware
ROGER L. SUDLER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Pinto Ross, DOROSHOW, PASQUALE, KRAWITZ & BHAYA,
Wilmington, DE Attorney for Plaintiff.
C. Weiss, Acting United States Attorney, and Heather
Benderson, Special Assistant United States Attorney, United
States Attorney's Office, Wilmington, DE
Koch and Robert S. Drum, Office of the General Counsel,
Social Security Administration, Philadelphia, PA Attorneys
U.S. District Judge:
Roger L. Sudler appeals a final decision of the Acting
Commissioner of Social Security, Nancy A. Berryhill
("Commissioner" or "Defendant"), denying
Plaintiffs application for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income, under Title n, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401-434, and Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. §§
1381-1383, of the Social Security Act. The Court has
jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment filed
by Sudler and the Commissioner. (See D.I. 10, 14)
Sudler requests that the Court remand to the ALJ for further
proceedings. (See D.I. 11 at 20-21) The Commissioner
requests that the Court affirm the decision denying
Plaintiffs application for benefits. (See D.I. 15 at
16) For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant in
part and deny in part the motions for summary judgment and
remand for further proceedings.
April 18, 2012, Sudler protectively filed an application for
supplemental security income benefits, alleging disability
with an onset date of April 1, 2012, due to HIV, bipolar
disorder, depression, mood disorder, and chronic asthma.
(See D.I. 7 at 287-297 ("Tr.")) Sudler
also filed an application for disability insurance benefits
on May 2, 2012. (See id.) The claims were initially
denied on August 8, 2012, and again upon reconsideration on
April 19, 2013. (See Id . at 28) After a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on July
17, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision on October 1, 2014,
finding that Plaintiff did not have a disability within the
meaning of the Social Security Act. (See Id . at
28-44) Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's
decision, which was denied on June 25, 2015, resulting in a
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.
(See Id . at 1)
August 24, 2015, Sudler filed a complaint in the District of
Delaware, seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision.
(See D.I. 2) Sudler moved for summary judgment on
April 8, 2016 (see D.I. 10), and the Commissioner
filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on June 9, 2016
(see D.I. 14).
was born on May 26, 1978, and lives in Dover, Delaware.
(See Tr. at 55-56) Plaintiff has a high school
diploma and enrolled in some college courses at Delaware
State University, although he never received any degrees or
certificates. (See Id . at 57) Sudler has past work
experience as a card services manager, a group home
caretaker, a cashier, and a certified nurse's assistant.
(See Id . at 71-73) Plaintiff also received
on-the-job training as a mechanic. (See Id . at 59)
Plaintiff testified that in 2007, he was convicted in
Delaware of identity theft for making a purchase at a Target
with a stolen credit card. (See Id . at 59-60)
Plaintiff is also a father and sees his daughter about every
other weekend. (See Id . at 56)
stopped working in April 2012, after leaving his full-time
employment as a mechanic at a flame retardant file cabinet
manufacturer, where he had worked for three years. (See
Id . at 58-59, 74-75) Plaintiff testified to having had
a "meltdown" in 2012, which resulted in
frustration, lowered attendance, and difficulty handling his
job duties. (Id.) Plaintiff testified that he took
time off, began counseling at Kent Wellness Clinic, and - at
the advice of his therapist - stopped working altogether.
(See Id . at 59)
testified that he had no physical limitations until about
three months before the hearing and continued to drive.
(See Id . at 63) Plaintiff testified that his
medications make him feel sedated, and that he stays in bed
most of the time. (See Id . at 64) Plaintiff stated
that he tried to go to places like the library, the gym, or
the mall but that he felt too lethargic to go and stopped
trying. (See Id . at 64-65)
Plaintiffs Medical History
Voluntary Hospitalizations '
voluntarily submitted to hospitalization for psychiatric
reasons four times between April 2012 and May 2013. (See
Id . at 32) Sudler was first hospitalized for about a
week in April 2012 for depression and suicidal thoughts.
(See Id . at 394-95) During that stay, he was
diagnosed with major depressive disorder, and his symptoms
improved, in part due to being prescribed medications to
treat that disorder. (See id.) Sudler was
hospitalized again, for nearly two weeks, in August 2012, for
depression and suicidal ideation, and again saw some
improvement. Sudler was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder and
depression, and prescribed three different medications.
(See Id . at 761-65) Plaintiffs third
hospitalization, again the result of depression and suicidal
thoughts, lasted one week in March 2013. (See Id .
at 535) During his stay, Plaintiff was prescribed a number of
medications to treat his mental-health disorders. (See Id
. at 538) Finally, Sudler was hospitalized for a week in
May 2013 after running out of his medications. (See Id
. at 772) Sudler again showed improvement during the
course of his stay, during which his medications were
adjusted and he was referred to out-patient treatment.
(See Id . at 775) Sudler does not report any
hospital stays after May 2013.
was seen by multiple doctors and therapists starting around
April 2012. (See Id . at 35-39) Of most importance
here are Sudler's ongoing treatments with therapist
Henriette Morris and psychiatrist Berjees Mukhtar. Following
his August 2012 hospitalization, Sudler was referred for
out-patient therapy to Ms. Morris, a licensed clinical social
worker. (See Id . at 620-21) Ms. Morris'
progress notes indicate that Plaintiff suffered from bipolar
I disorder and insomnia. (See, e.g., Id . at 466,
476) Her notes suggest that Plaintiff improved on medication
and that his attention and concentration were intact despite
the effects of depression and anxiety. (See, e.g., Id
. at 478, 500) For example, on May 23, 2013, Ms. Morris
indicated that Sudler was "feeling much better" on
medication, but was sometimes experiencing periods of
hypersomnia. (Id. at 570) She also noted that
Sudler's medications "can be sedative" as a
side effect. (Id.)
his May 2013 hospital stay, Plaintiff also began to see Dr.
Mukhtar, who noted that Plaintiff has bipolar disorder.
(See Id . at 737-39) On several occasions, Dr.
Mukhtar's notes indicate that Plaintiff reported
prolonged periods of sleeping or sleep disturbances.
(See, e.g., Id . at 709, 730, 734) In February 2014,
Dr. Mukhtar recommended that Plaintiff undergo
electroconvulsive therapy, as Dr. Mukhtar thought Sudler
showed signs of medication resistance. (See Id . at
695) Dr. Mukhtar's notes from June 2014 indicate that
Sudler had not been cleared for electroconvulsive therapy for
cardiac reasons. (See Id . at 689)
result of Dr. Mukhtar's referral for electroconvulsive
therapy, Sudler underwent a cardiac exam. Plaintiffs
cardiologist, Dr. Horjinder Grewal, performed a
echocardiogram on May 19, 2014, which showed severely reduced
systolic function with an ejection fraction of 30%, a
reversed E/A ratio, and severe global hypokinesis of the left
ventricle. (See Id . at 748) Dr. Grewal then
performed additional testing - left and right heart
catheterizations, selective coronary angiography, left
ventriculography, and right lower leg angiography - on June
13, 2014, which also showed "severely reduced left
ventricular systolic function with an ejection of 30
percent." (Id. at 744-45) At the hearing before
the ALJ, Sudler's counsel stated that additional
follow-up was needed on these tests. (See Id . at
Medical Opinion Evidence
submitted two opinions from treating providers: cardiologist
Dr. Grewal and therapist Ms. Morris. (See Id . at
541, 740-43) Sudler was also assessed by several non-treating
medical and psychiatric consultants. (See Id . at
Treating Providers' Opinions
letter dated November 8, 2013, Ms. Morris wrote that she had
been working with Plaintiff since May of 2012 for bipolar I
disorder with episodic depression, anxiety, and trauma.
(See Id . at 541) Ms. Morris stated that Plaintiff
incurred four hospitalizations, each lasting at least two
weeks, and she described his current mental health as
"very unpredictable." (Id.) She opined
that "active gainful employment with stringent
attendance requirement[s] as well as increased stress may
prove to be counterproductive in his strive for symptomatic
physical residual functional capacity questionnaire filled
out on July 7, 2014, Dr. Grewal identified Sudler as having
idiopathic cardiomyopathy causing fatigue with impairment
lasting or expected to last in excess of 12 months. (See
Id . at 740) Dr. Grewal stated that Plaintiff needs a
life vest and beta blockers and that Plaintiffs depression
contributes to his condition. (See id.) Dr. Grewal
did not estimate Sudler's functional limitations but
stated that Plaintiff is "disabled." (See Id
. at 741-42) Dr. Grewal concluded that Sudler is
incapable of performing even low-stress work and that he
would be absent "everyday." (Id. at 741,
Consultations with ...