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Bryce C. Lassle v. Michael J. Astrue

March 16, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Karen E. Schreier Chief Judge


Plaintiff, Bryce C. Lassle, moves for reversal of the Commissioner of Social Security's (Commissioner) decision denying his applications for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II and for supplemental security income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The Commissioner opposes this motion.


Lassle filed an application for DIB and SSI on October 1, 2007. Administrative Record (AR) 41. He alleged a disability onset date of May 1, 2001. AR 41. His claims for benefits were denied initially and upon reconsideration.

AR 41. Lassle then sought a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), which was held on September 16, 2009. AR 41. The ALJ received the testimony of Lassle, Dr. Robert E. Pelc, a psychological medical expert, and Jerry Gravatt, a vocational expert (VE). AR 41. The ALJ issued an opinion on November 13, 2009, and concluded that Lassle was not disabled. AR 41-53. Lassle requested a review of the determination by the Appeals Council. Joint Statement of Material Facts (JSMF) 4. The Appeals Council denied the request for review on October 8, 2010. JSMF 4. On December 12, 2010, Lassle commenced this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's determination that he is not disabled.


Lassle was born April 7, 1979. AR 139, 145. At the time of the hearing before the ALJ, Lassle was 30 years old. AR 17. Lassle had obtained a high school education. AR 29. The ALJ classified Lassle's past work experience as "Janitor (Carpet Cleaner)." AR 275. Since 2001, Lassle has worked for his father as a carpet cleaning technician. AR 221. Lassle's father has indicated that he makes a number of accommodations due to Lassle's conditions and that he would not employ Lassle were he not his son. AR 224.

I. Treatment for Mental Impairments

On May 15, 2001, Lassle was admitted to Rapid City Regional Hospital after overdosing on ibuprofen, Tylenol, and cough syrup. AR 303. During this hospitalization, Dr. Richard Renka treated Lassle. AR 307-09. On May 18, 2001, Lassle was discharged from the hospital with a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder, depression, nicotine dependence, cannabis dependence, and polysubstance abuse and given a prescription for Paxil. AR 304.

On May 24, 2001, Lassle was admitted into an outpatient chemical dependency treatment program. AR 311. He was discharged from that program on January 10, 2002, after failing to return for services. AR 311.

Lassle did, however, continue to seek treatment for his mental impairments by meeting with Dr. Renka. On August 13, 2001, Lassle had his first appointment with Dr. Renka after his hospitalization. AR 371. During that session, Lassle indicated he was in the process of separating from his wife. AR 371. The notes reflect that the week prior to meeting with Dr. Renka, Lassle had attempted to go off his medications to "see if he could do without it." AR 371. Dr. Renka refilled Lassle's prescription for Paxil. AR 371.

The next documented visit occurred on October 21, 2002. AR 369. At that time, Lassle presented with "some evidence of mood instability" despite taking Paxil. AR 369. Dr. Renka noted that Lassle's "[a]ffect was blunted. His mood is mildly depressed. Psychomotor activity is low, if anything." AR 370. Dr. Renka increased Lassle's Paxil dosage from 20 mg, which was prescribed in May of 2001, to 30 mg. AR 369-70.

On November 5, 2002, Dr. Renka met with Lassle. AR 368. He diagnosed Lassle with bipolar affective disorder and a depressed state. He prescribed Lithium and a Lamictal pack so that Lassle would be on a 100 mg dosage by week five. AR 368. At that time, Dr. Renka noted that Lassle's "[c]oncentration [was] poor and recall questionable." AR 368.

Lassle next met with Dr. Renka on December 2, 2002. AR 367. Lassle reported improvements in his condition. AR 367. Dr. Renka continued the prescription for Lithium and kept the dosage of Lamictal at 100 mg. AR 367. Lassle was still doing well when he met with Dr. Renka on January 13, 2003. AR 366. Nonetheless, Dr. Renka adjusted Lassle's medication. AR 366.

In March of 2003, Lassle reported problems with insomnia. AR 365. Dr. Renka again adjusted Lassle's prescription for Lamictal, continued the prescription for Lithium, and added a prescription for Klonopin. AR 365. Lassle was also admonished to refrain from drinking. AR 365.

Approximately three weeks later, on April 2, 2003, Dr. Renka saw Lassle again. AR 364. The notes reflect that Lassle was doing well and presented with a stable mood. AR 364. Lassle reported that his sleep was improving. AR 364. Dr. Renka kept the medications at their same dosages. AR 364. Similar sentiments were expressed in the visit notes dated May 27, 2003. AR 363.

On August 6, 2003, Lassle met with Dr. Renka. AR 362. He reported anxiety over the upcoming motorcycle rally. AR 362. He stated that he was "queasy and can hardly eat." AR 362. He also reported sleep disturbances in addition to overwhelming anxiety. AR 362. Dr. Renka's notes state that Lassle "appears to have a social phobia." AR 362. He increased the dosages of Lithium and Klonopin and continued the prescription for Lamictal. AR 362.

On November 5, 2003, Lassle reported a stable mood. AR 361. Dr. Renka's notes state Lassle "may need an obligatory companion for certain activities. It is beginning to look like he has more of a panic disorder than a social phobia or perhaps both are true." AR 361. Also noted is Lassle's increasing difficulty leaving home for work trips which last more than one day. AR 361. His medications were continued at their same dosages. AR 361.

In February of 2004, Lassle reported that he was drinking. AR 360. The notes state, "he is slow in his thinking. . . . He truly wants to quit [drinking] but fears AA because of the group size. He hates driving in vehicles and won't come to Rapid City." AR 360. Dr. Renka attributed Lassle's depressed state to his alcohol use and continued the medications at their same dosages. AR 360.

Dr. Renka also continued Lassle's medications at their same dosages when they met on May 24, 2004. AR 359. A handwritten note on the bottom of the record, however, indicates that Dr. Renka increased the Klonopin dosage in July of 2004. AR 359.

The next documented visit occurred on August 30, 2004. AR 358. On that date, Lassle was anxious but his mood was "relatively stable." AR 358. He indicated high anxiety around groups of people and during the annual motorcycle rally. AR 358. Dr. Renka noted that Lassle's Lithium dosage had previously been increased and maintained the medications as previously prescribed. AR 358.

During a December 2, 2004, appointment, Lassle was "very anxious." AR 357. Dr. Renka noted, "[h]is anxiety rises to the level of panic at times. He has tachycardia and shortness of breath." AR 357. Dr. Renka increased Lassle's dosages of Lithium and Klonopin. AR 357.

Dr. Renka next saw Lassle on March 21, 2005. AR 356. Lassle reported some anxiety and that he thought he was "cycling about every 3 weeks." AR 356. Dr. Renka did not adjust Lassle's medication. AR 356.

On June 14, 2005, Dr. Renka noted that Lassle was somewhat despondent due to lower back pain. AR 355. Dr. Renka stated that Lassle "has all the medication ...

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