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Brunner v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

August 31, 2019

WILLIAM M. BRUNNER, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          William C. Griesbach, Chief United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff William Brunner filed this action for judicial review of a decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for supplemental security income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act with an alleged onset date of November 4, 2009. Brunner, who is proceeding pro se in this action, filed a brief wherein he briefly outlined his conditions that he contends render him disabled but did not directly address or identify any error in the administrative law judge's (ALJ) decision. The Commissioner filed his response, but Brunner failed to reply. For the reasons that follow, the decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.

         BACKGROUND

         Brunner filed an application for SSI on December 6, 2013. R. 13. Brunner listed legal blindness in left eye, bipolar, schizophrenic, depression, nerve damage to left side of body, mass on right lung, and epilepsy as the conditions that limited his ability to work. R. 192. After his application was denied initially and on reconsideration, Brunner requested a hearing before an ALJ. On May 31, 2017, ALJ B. Lloyd Blair conducted a video hearing where Brunner, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert (VE) testified. R. 33-59.

         At the time of the hearing, Brunner was 39 years old, was 5'7", and weighed 225 pounds. R. 35-36. Brunner testified that the highest level of education he has completed was the eleventh grade. R. 36. Although he has a driver's license, he stated that he does not drive. Id. Brunner does not currently work and last worked in October of 2010. Id. He was incarcerated from November of 2015 to December of 2016. Id.

         Brunner testified about the chronic pain and nerve damage that he suffers from as a result of being shot seven times in 2010. R. 37. Brunner stated the pain runs from his head to his toes on his left side and ranges from a 4 on a good day to an 8 on a bad day on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the worst. R. 44. According to Brunner, activities, such as standing and walking, aggravate his pain. R. 45. Brunner also testified that he suffers from chronic back pain that also ranges from a 4 to 8 and is aggravated by the same actions. Id. Brunner further stated that he has constant pain in his right knee on which he had surgery because of bone-on-bone contact and that he has arthritis in his hands, legs, and back. R. 45-46. He testified that he sees his primary care doctor, pain management doctor, and physical therapist to address his chronic pain and that they have prescribed him Gabapentin, Baclofen, and Oxycodone. He feels jittery and anxious when he takes the medication. R. 38.

         Brunner stated that his physical impairments make it difficult for him to climb stairs, squat, and pick up items heavier than five pounds from a table, but that he is able to bend over and pick a dollar bill up off the floor. R. 41, 43, 47. Brunner further testified that he cannot stand or sit continuously for more than about 30 minutes and that he has difficulty sleeping as a result of the pain, getting only three to four hours a night. R. 42, 50.

         Brunner also testified about his epilepsy. He indicated he has had epilepsy for a long time but it was not formally diagnosed until five years ago. Brunner stated that he has seizures at least twice a year that last 15 to 30 minutes in length. R. 37-38, 43. Brunner has been prescribed Depakote to treat his epilepsy. R. 39. Brunner also stated that he is legally blind in his left eye. R. 37.

         As to his mental health issues, Brunner testified that he has schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and bipolar disorder. Id. He has seen a psychiatrist once a month since his release from incarceration, and he saw a psychiatrist for two years prior to his incarceration. Id. Brunner has been prescribed Mirtazapine, Seroquel, and Abilify by his psychiatrist, and stated that the medications make him feel stable but like a zombie. R. 38. Brunner testified that these conditions result in him having hallucinations, hearing voices a few times a week, experiencing mood swings on a daily basis as well as anxiety that comes and goes. R. 48. According to his testimony, Brunner has difficulties getting along with others, gets nervous around groups of people, can follow instructions well but is not always able to finish tasks because he gives up easily, and gets distracted easily because stress impairs his ability to focus. R. 47-48. Brunner stated that he has never been hospitalized as the result of any of his mental conditions. R. 39.

         Regarding daily activities, Brunner testified that his cousin acts as his caretaker, helps him get dressed and takes care of cleaning, laundry, groceries, cooking, and other household chores. R. 40-41, 49-50. Brunner stated that he occasionally visits with friends, relatives, and neighbors. R. 41.

         In a thirteen-page decision dated July 17, 2017, the ALJ determined that Brunner is not disabled. R. 13-25. The ALJ's decision followed the five-step sequential process for determining disability prescribed by the Social Security Administration (SSA). R. 14-15. At step one, the ALJ concluded that Brunner has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his December 6, 2013 alleged onset date. R. 15. At step two, the ALJ concluded that Brunner has the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, psychotic disorder, depressive disorder, status post gunshot wounds to the left lower extremity, sciatic neuropathy, lumbago, and epilepsy. Id. At step three, the ALJ concluded Brunner did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 16. The ALJ considered listings 1.00 concerning musculoskeletal disorders, 11.00 concerning neurological disorders, and listings 12.03 and 12.04 concerning mental disorders. R. 16-17.

         The ALJ next assessed Brunner's residual functional capacity (RFC) and found that he can perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) subject to the following limitations:

never use ladders, scaffolds, or ropes; occasionally use ramps or stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; avoid walking on uneven surfaces; never use torque, pneumatic, or power tools; avoid concentrated exposures to hazards including dangerous and unprotected machinery or heights; occasionally bend, twist, or turn at the waist; do no commercial driving; never use foot controls; no objects presented from the left; requires a cane to ambulate; do only simple, routine, unskilled low stress work.

R. 17. At step four, the ALJ concluded, based on the testimony of the VE, that Brunner would be able to perform the following occupations: mail sorter, assembler, packager, visual inspector, and product processing jobs. R. 24. ...


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