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Meade v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 15, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         Plaintiff Michael Meade ("Meade") filed this action on November 29, 2017 against the defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner"). Meade seeks judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Commissioner's May 24, 2017 final decision, denying Meade's claim for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-134 and §§ 1381-1383f. The court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Currently before the court are cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Meade and the Commissioner. (D.I. 14; D.I. 16) Meade asks the court to remand his case for further administrative proceedings. (D.I. 15 at 21) The Commissioner moves the court to affirm the ALJ's decision. (D.I. 17 at 25) For the reasons set forth below, Meade's motion for summary judgment is granted-in-part (D.I. 14), the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment is denied (D.I. 16), and the case is remanded for further proceedings.[1]


         A. Procedural History

         Meade protectively filed his application for DIB on September 4, 2014, claiming a disability onset date of July 15, 2014 due to impairments in his knees, back, shoulder, and feet, as well as mild arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, and impotence. (D.I. 12-5 at 2-3; D.I. 12-6 at 5) The claim was denied initially on December 23, 2014, and upon reconsideration on August 19, 2015. (D.I. 12-3 at 15, 28) Thereafter, Meade filed a written request for a hearing, which occurred on April 13, 2017. (D.I. 12-4 at 16-17, 41) At the hearing, Meade amended his alleged disability onset date to February 12, 2015, [2] and he alleged memory impairment issues starting before that date. (D.I. 12-2 at 39-42) On May 24, 2017, Administrative Law Judge C. Howard Prinsloo (the "ALJ") issued an unfavorable decision, finding that Meade was not disabled under the Act. (Id. at 16-30) The Appeals Council denied Meade's request for review on October 3, 2017, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 2-4)

         On November 29, 2017, Meade brought the instant civil action challenging the ALJ's decision. (D.I. 2) On June 25, 2018, Meade filed a motion for summary judgment, and on August 23, 2018, the Commissioner filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. (D.I. 14; D.I. 16)

         B. Medical History [3]

         Meade was born on February 12, 1960, and he was fifty-five on his amended alleged disability onset date. (D.I. 12-2 at 39) Meade has a college education and previously played in the National Football League ("NFL") from 1982 to 1985. (D.I. 12-2 at 44; D.I. 12-6 at 6; D.I. 12-7 at 4) Thereafter, Meade worked in stock sales, mortgage sales, and general sales. (D.I. 12- 2 at 62) The ALJ concluded that Meade has the following severe impairments: post-concussion syndrome, degenerative joint disease, degenerative disc disease, and obesity. (Id. at 18)

         In August 2009, Meade was evaluated by Kenneth Nudleman, M.D., a clinical neurologist, in connection with litigation against the NFL. (D.I. 12-7 at 3) Meade reported that he was hit on several occasions during his football career, but was not rendered unconscious, and he gets headaches once or twice a month with a pain level of six out of ten. (Id. at 4) Meade described forgetfulness and delay in processing information. (Id.) Dr. Nudleman observed that Meade's mood and affect were normal, but he demonstrated some memory loss. (Id.) Dr. Nudleman diagnosed Meade with posttraumatic head syndrome, posttraumatic headaches, and a sleep disorder, describing these conditions as minimal or slight. (Id. at 5) Dr. Nudleman recommended that Meade avoid work in an environment requiring constant multitasking or an environment in which he could be subject to head trauma. (Id.) Dr. Nudleman imposed no other limitations on Meade's ability to work. (Id.)

         On November 24, 2014, Meade saw Dr. Rachel Brandenburg for a psychological consultative evaluation. (D.I. 12-8 at 61) Dr. Brandenburg observed Meade's behavior and administered both the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Fourth Edition ("WAIS-IV") and the Wechsler Memory Scale-Fourth Edition ("WMS-IV"). (Id. at 61-65) Dr. Brandenburg reported that Meade was friendly, engaging, and made good eye contact. (Id. at 61) His attention and concentration were good, and he was able to sit comfortably for 2Vi hours while testing. (Id.) Dr. Brandenburg observed that although Meade appeared nervous during the assessment and became frustrated with his perceived inability to perform well on the memory testing, he became more relaxed as the testing continued. (Id.) Under the WAIS-IV, Meade achieved above average in perceptual reasoning and working memory, average in verbal comprehension and processing speed, and high average in his full-scale IQ, with a score of 111. (Id. at 62; D.I. 12-3 at 24) Dr. Brandenburg indicated that Meade's WMS-IV scores were lower than predicted after his actual WAIS-IV scores, suggesting the presence of memory impairment. (D.I. 12-8 at 63-64)

         In December 2014, state agency psychiatrist Aroon Suansilppongse, M.D. reviewed Meade's medical history. (D.I. 12-3 at 9-10) Dr. Suansilppongse found that Meade's mental impairments do not cause more than mild limitations with respect to his activities of daily living, social functioning, concentration, persistence, or pace, and therefore are non-severe. (Id.) Dr. Suansilppongse observed that Meade was not receiving psychiatric treatment at the time of the evaluation. (Id.)

         In May 2015, Meade visited Walter E. Afield, M.D. for a neuropsychiatric evaluation in connection with the NFL litigation. (D.I. 12-8 at 68-72) During the examination, Meade reported his history of issues with memory, multitasking, concentration, and driving. (Id.) Dr. Afield concluded that Meade showed moderate levels of dementia and diagnosed him with neurocognitive impairment, chronic pain, photophobia, balance problems due to brain dysfunction, tinnitus, major depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. (Id.) Dr. Afield recommended further testing and evaluation. (Id.)

         On May 21, 2015, Meade visited neurologist Robert Martinez, M.D. in connection with the NFL litigation. Dr. Martinez observed that Meade was awake, alert, and oriented during the exam. (D.I. 12-8 at 79-80) Meade was able to subtract 7 from 100 only three times, and he had difficulty drawing a clock with a specific time and drawing a three-dimensional box. (Id.) Dr. Martinez indicated that Meade was unable to remember three objects for five minutes. (Id.) Dr. Martinez reported that Meade had met the criteria for a level 1.5 neuro-cognitive impairment based on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment Scale. (D.I. 12-8 at 77-81) A year later, in May 2016, Dr. Martinez provided another report, which was almost identical to the May 2015 report, but it also incorporated references to Dr. Afield's testing. (D.I. 12-9 at 57-62)

         In July 2015, Meade followed up with Dr. Afield and described requiring assistance with everyday activities around the house. (D.I. 12-9 at 16-17) Dr. Afield noted that Meade's memory was very bad, he had problems speaking, and he was inflexible in social situations. (Id. at 16) Dr. Afield diagnosed Meade with "a permanent neurocognitive impairment of substantive severity," and he prescribed Adderall and recommended cognitive restructuring. (Id. at 16-17)

         On August 19, 2015, state agency psychologist Jane Curran, Ph.D reviewed Meade's record and agreed with Dr. Suansilppongse's findings that Meade did not have a severe mental impairment. (D.I. 12-3 at 23-24)

         Meade underwent an MRI of his brain in February 2016 which revealed "[m]ultiple scattered foci of increased signal in the bifrontal and left periventricular and subcortical white matter ... with many foci seen near the grey-white junction in the frontal and left parietal lobes. These are nonspecific and most likely represent combination of chronic small vessel ischemic changes and foci of shear axonal injury given clinical history." (D.I. 12-9 at 20) Dr. Afield indicated that the MRI results were consistent with his clinical findings. (Id. at 22) Meade also underwent additional tests in connection with the NFL litigation. (Id. at 10-15) Dr. Afield noted that Meade's WMS-IV scores showed various levels of impairment, his language test scores showed severe impairment, he showed moderate impairment in complex attention and processing speed, and mild to moderate impairment in executive functioning. (Id. at 10-12) Dr. Afield described Meade as flexible in social situations, but explained that Meade has moderate to severe memory loss which interferes with his daily activities. (Id. at 13-14) Dr. Afield noted a mild impairment in personal care, and severe cognitive decline. (Id. at 14)

         Meade had follow-up visits with Dr. Afield in April, June, and July of 2016. (D.I. 12-9 at 23-31) Dr. Afield described Meade's worsening symptoms, as Meade reported having difficulty with getting out of bed, cooking, eating, cleaning, and socializing. (Id. at 23) Meade exhibited poor recent memory, concentration, attention, and judgment. (Id. at 30)

         C. Hearing Before the ALJ

         1. Meade's Testimony

         At the hearing on April 13, 2017, Meade testified that he was 57 years old, he was divorced with two grown children, and he lives alone. (D.I. 12-2 at 39, 42-43) Meade stopped working in 2010, and stated he can no longer do his previous work because he cannot think quickly or negotiate. (Id. at 41, 52) In 2010, Meade trained for a sales job but was not hired because he had difficulty remembering the sales pitch script. (Id. at 46) He earned $2, 600 for completing the training portion. (Id.)

         Meade testified that he was involved with the NFL lawsuit concerning traumatic brain injury and that he was diagnosed with early onset dementia. (D.I. 12-2 at 44) At the time of the hearing, the settlement had just recently been approved. (Id. at 45) Also in relation to the NFL, Meade testified that he received a net amount of $150, 000 in workers compensation in 2009 or 2010. (Id. at 45)

         In 2015, Meade participated in the NFL Heads Up program, where ambassadors spoke to coaches, parents, and kids about safety in youth football for a minimal amount of money. (Id. at 45, 58-59) Meade acknowledged that his position with Heads Up ended only because the NFL discontinued the program in 2016. (Id.)

         Meade stated that he is able to drive, but his activities have decreased and he no longer wants to spend time with family members or other people. (Id. at 43-44, 47-48, 51) Meade testified that he felt depressed and suffered from memory problems. (Id. at 46-49) Meade suffers from throbbing headaches. (D.I. 12-2 at 52) Meade stated that he cannot sit for more than an hour, he can walk a ...

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