United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
OPINION & ORDER
WILLIAM M. CONLEY, District Judge.
Plaintiff Randy Stark seeks judicial review of a decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. Stark contends that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) was not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ: (1) failed to afford sufficient weight to the statement of Stark’s treating physician; and (2) failed to provide a complete hypothetical question to the Vocational Expert (“VE”). The court agrees that the ALJ’s approach to the treating physician’s opinion requires remand and will grant Stark’s motion.
I. Procedural History
On December 19, 2012, ALJ Thomas J. Sanzi issued a decision denying Stark’s request for disability insurance benefits. (AR 19-32.) Stark filed a petition for review on February 5, 2013. (Id. at 14.) The Appeals Council denied the request for review on March 28, 2014, making the ALJ’s decision the final determination of the Commissioner. (Id. at 1.) On May 23, 2014, Stark filed a timely complaint for judicial review in this court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
II. Medical Evidence
Stark relates his medical history in some detail in his opening brief, and so the court need not repeat it all here. (See Pl.’s Am. Br. (dkt. #16) 1-11.) Since 2010, Stark has suffered from several impairments, both physical and mental, that have limited his daily activities and occupational capabilities. He does not challenge the ALJ’s findings related to his alleged physical disabilities, and so this opinion focuses primarily on record evidence related to his mental limitations.
Dr. Carmen Scudiero is Stark’s treating physician. On February 23, 2010, Dr. Scudiero noted that Stark had chronic pain syndrome, chronic low back pain, dyslipidemia, gout, panic disorder and depression. (AR 318.) At that time, Dr. Scudiero noted that Stark was in “good spirits” and “on an even keel.” (Id.) Following some new difficulty with leg pain and a motor vehicle accident, both incidents for which Dr. Scudiero saw Stark, Stark’s mental condition worsened, according to Dr. Scudiero’s treatment notes of July 23. (AR 315.) Dr. Scudiero wrote that Stark was “not doing well from a mental health standpoint.” While his neck pain was “really gone, ”
His new symptom is marked mood lability. He will be feeling good one second and feeling kind of depressed, but also angry the next. This is causing a problem with his relationship with his roommate.
(Id.) On November 5, Dr. Scudiero noted that Stark’s pain was continuing, that he had not worked for the last three weeks due to discomfort, and that Stark “continued to have the sweats.” (AR 311.)
On January 12, 2011, Dr. Scudiero noted that while some of Stark’s physical pain had improved, Stark was “not doing as well in regard to his depression and panic.” (AR 306.) While Dr. Scudiero’s treatment notes of March 28 observed that Stark was “significantly improved” and that his depression was “dramatically improved also” (AR 303), Dr. Scudiero treated Stark on April 13 for “[s]evere depression with suicide attempt and suicidal ideation, ” noting in part:
Things have not been going well for Mr. Stark. The situation is multifactorial. He has had to go off the Venlafaxine because he could not afford it. He has been severely stressed at work in his customer service job[.] . . . He took 8 Valium yesterday. He emptied the whole bottle into his hand, was going to take everything that he had left but took 8 and then stopped at that, hoping that he would fall asleep and die. He has thought about nothing but suicide for the last 3 days and is very very much worried if he goes home, he is going to do something to kill himself. . . . I am referring him to the Psychiatry Unit to be admitted with suicidal depression.
(AR 302.) On April 19, Dr. Nancy Charlier at Gundersen Lutheran Hospital, where Stark had been admitted on a direct basis from Dr. Scudiero’s office, noted that Stark had complained of “increasing depression” and that he had still been “feeling suicidal” upon his arrival. (AR 353.)
On April 26, after Stark’s discharge from the hospital, treatment notes indicate that Stark reported a longstanding history of depressive symptoms, multiple episodes of depression that could last weeks or months, and suicidal contemplation. (AR 290.) He was diagnosed with a “mood disorder not otherwise specified (probably bipolar disorder type II), ” panic disorder without agoraphobia, anxiety disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, as well as some other physical conditions. (AR 292.) On May 25, 2011, Dr. Scudiero noted that Stark had again been hospitalized for severe depression. (AR 299.)
On September 14, 2011, Dr. Kelly Clouse noted that Stark had been doing better but was “recently worse with mood and anxiety symptoms” and documented Stark with bipolar disorder, panic disorder without agoraphobia, anxiety disorder, chronic back pain, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, hypothyroid, gout, reflux, irritable bowel, fatty liver, anemia, and a GAF score of 52. (AR 450.) On September 19, Dr. Clouse reported that Stark ...