Danny J. Ray, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant-Appellee.
January 23, 2019
from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division No. l:17-cv-01322
- Matthew P. Brookman, Magistrate Judge.
Wood, Chief Judge, and Kanne, and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.
Ray applied for Supplemental Security Income and Disability
Insurance Benefits based on a host of physical disorders and
mental conditions. An administrative law judge found that Ray
was severely impaired by most of his physical conditions, but
she denied benefits after finding that he could perform his
past relevant work as a school bus monitor. Ray challenges
that finding, arguing that the ALJ erroneously discredited
him, failed to treat his prior job as "composite,"
and improperly assessed his functional abilities compared to
the job requirements for a bus monitor in the general
economy. The district court affirmed the ALJ's decision.
We agree with Ray and vacate the judgment.
lives with diabetes, hypertension, obesity, kidney disease,
degenerative disc disease, anxiety, and depression. When his
conditions worsened, he began working gradually easier jobs,
from janitor to forklift operator to bus monitor for children
with special needs, until eventually he gave up his
employment entirely. As a bus monitor, he would lift disabled
children into their seats on the bus, strap down wheelchairs,
and monitor the children's behavior. He ultimately quit
because it was too painful for his hands, feet, and hips.
receives medical care for his physical impairments but has
been noncompliant with some treatments, mostly in relation to
his diabetes. He struggles to remember to test his
blood-glucose levels, eat healthfully, and take insulin.
Doctors who treat Ray's back condition also have noted
that he takes more pain medication than the prescribed
November 2013, Ray applied for social security benefits.
During the review process, two consulting state-agency
psychologists and an examining clinical psychologist, Dr.
Zera, evaluated his functioning. The consulting psychologists
both concluded that Ray is moderately limited in his ability
to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods
but is not significantly limited in any other aspect of
concentration, persistence, or pace. Dr. Zera determined that
Ray has an anxiety disorder and learning disorder, noting his
"difficulty reading and poor math skills." Ray also
met with Dr. Fish, an agency physician, who determined that
Ray's major functional impairment is exertional
tolerance. Dr. Fish noted a positive result from a supine
straight-leg test, which reflects lumbar nerve root
compression, though the less-sensitive seated test was
agency denied Ray's applications initially and upon
reconsideration, and his case proceeded to a hearing with an
ALJ. At the hearing, Ray testified -and his mother and
girlfriend corroborated with written statements-that his
daily activities include taking his medication, making
himself three simple meals, watching television, using the
dishwasher, and showering (while using a shower seat).
Outside of these tasks, he sits and watches television. Ray
occasionally does laundry if reminded, and he had the laundry
machines moved from the basement to the first floor of his
house because the stairs were difficult for him. Once per
week, he goes grocery shopping with the assistance of an
electric cart. When he did not have family to drive him, the
hospital provided him a bus pass because he is physically
incapable of walking home.
addition to his physical impairments, Ray has limited
intellect. He testified that he completed eight grades of
special education, but he struggles to read and write.
Although he will occasionally purchase a newspaper, it takes
time for him to make sense of what he sees. Because of his
limitations, his mother or girlfriend must write his checks
and complete his paperwork.
decision, the ALJ analyzed Ray's application based on the
five-step process set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 and
found him not disabled. She determined that he is not engaged
in substantial gainful employment (step one) and that he has
severe impairments of diabetes mellitus, obesity,
degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis of the hip,
coronary artery disease, kidney disease, hypertension, and a
history of atrial fibrillation (step two). But his
impairments, she concluded, do not meet a listing (step
determined that Ray has the residual functional capacity
("RFC") to perform light work (lifting ten to
twenty pounds) and to stand or walk for six hours. She also
found that he is able to "understand, remember, and
carry out semiskilled tasks" and "attend to tasks
for a sufficient period in order to complete tasks."
Regarding Ray's limitations, the ALJ found him only
"partially credible," largely based on the notion
that, if his symptoms were as severe as alleged, his daily
activities would be more restricted and he would be more
compliant with his prescribed treatments.
presented Ray's RFC to the vocational expert, who
concluded that Ray could work as a school bus monitor-not as
he had performed the job, but as it is performed in the
national economy. At the hearing, Ray questioned the
vocational expert about the required level of language
development for that position. The vocational expert
confirmed that a requirement of the job, as it is generally
performed, is the ability to "write ...