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Peet v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division

September 28, 2015

ERIC L. PEET, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security; Defendant.


KAREN E. SCHREIER, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Eric L. Peet, seeks review of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his claim for social security disability insurance benefits (SSDI) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423, and for supplemental security income (SSI) under Title XVI of that Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1382. The Commissioner opposes the motion and moves the court to affirm the denial. For the following reasons, the court affirms the decision of the Commissioner.


Peet applied for SSDI and SSI on February 5, 2009, alleging disability since April 12, 2008. AR 259;[1] AR 266.[2] The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied Peet's applications initially on June 19, 2009 and again upon reconsideration on November 20, 2009. AR 100-01; AR 103-04. Peet then requested an administrative hearing and appeared with counsel before Administrative Law Judge James W. Olson (ALJ) on October 13, 2010. See AR 63-99 (transcript of hearing). Thereafter, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Peet retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform past relevant work as a dishwasher and housekeeper. AR 105-23. Thus, the ALJ denied Peet's claims, concluding he was not disabled. Peet timely appealed the ALJ's decision and requested review by the Appeals Council. AR 200. The Appeals Council granted Peet's request and remanded his case to the ALJ in an order dated March 9, 2012. AR 124-27.

On remand, Peet appeared with counsel before the ALJ for a second hearing that was held on June 20, 2012. See AR 32-62 (transcript of hearing). Thereafter, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Peet could perform past relevant work as a security guard. AR 7-27. The ALJ again denied Peet's claims, concluding that Peet was not disabled. Peet timely appealed the ALJ's decision and requested review by the Appeals Counsel, but such review was denied on July 15, 2014. AR 28-29; AR 1-3.[3] On August 29, 2014, Peet initiated the present action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of his claims. Docket 1.


Peet was born on November 26, 1988. AR 259; AR 266. At the time of the second hearing, Peet was 23 years old. AR 38. Peet has experienced significant deafness in both ears all of his life and requires the use of a hearing aid. AR 38; AR 331; AR 358. Peet stated that he can read peoples' lips when they talk, but that he has difficulty hearing and understanding spoken words. AR 39; AR 84. Peet also acknowledged that he has difficulty speaking clearly. AR 39. Peet earned a high school diploma, but did not attend college. AR 38. Peet reported past work experience at a variety of jobs, including work as a security guard, a dishwasher, a car wash attendant, a hotel housekeeper, an auto detailer, and a construction company employee. AR 39-44. Peet primarily worked on a part-time basis and sometimes for a period of only weeks or months before the employment would end. AR 52-54; AR 301-304; AR 333.

Throughout his childhood, Peet was enrolled in special education classes. AR 39. In 2002, when he was thirteen-years-old, Peet began attending classes at the South Dakota School for the Deaf (SDSD) in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. AR 545. While enrolled at SDSD, Peet was the victim of several episodes of sexual abuse instigated by an older male resident of the school named Tom. AR 547.

Following the incidents at SDSD, Peet saw Dr. Curt Hill, a licensed clinical psychologist, for a psychological assessment in 2003. AR 538. Dr. Hill's notes indicate that Peet had not previously attended counseling or been prescribed any medication. AR 538. Dr. Hill further noted that the instances of sexual abuse have negatively impacted Peet's life. AR 539. For example, Peet reported difficulties sleeping, that he no longer wished to attend school, and that he had had several conflicts with family members since the time of the abuse. AR 539. Dr. Hill diagnosed Peet with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and assessed Peet's Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) score at 48.[4] AR 540. Dr. Hill recommended weekly psychotherapy. AR 540.

At some point, Peet filed a civil lawsuit related to the abuse he suffered at SDSD. Dr. Gilbert W. Kliman was retained as an expert to conduct a psychiatric evaluation of Peet. AR 542. Dr. Kliman examined Peet on December 4, 2004, and filed his report on May 22, 2007. AR 542. In addition to interviewing Peet, Dr. Kliman also interviewed Peet's mother and stepfather. AR 542.

Dr. Kliman's report chronicled Peet's upbringing and family background, as well as the instances of abuse that occurred at SDSD and Peet's subsequent transfer from SDSD into public school. AR 543-63. In his interview summaries, Dr. Kliman noted that Peet and his mother reported an increase in verbal and physical conflicts between Peet and members of his family, as well as Peet's tendency to anger quickly. AR 567-70; AR 573; AR 576. Dr. Kliman's report includes his diagnoses of PTSD and depression, and he assessed Peet's GAF score at 55. AR 582. He recommended a long-term therapeutic treatment regime and provided a cost estimate for such a plan. AR 583-586. Peet eventually reached a monetary settlement with SDSD to resolve the lawsuit. See AR 50; AR 80. As a result of the settlement, a trust account was established to help Peet pay for counseling. AR 50.

On November 4, 2008, after he moved from South Dakota to stay with his biological father and stepmother in Michigan, Peet began receiving mental health assistance at Pines Behavioral Health Services. AR 473. Darren Moore, a clinician, completed Peet's initial assessment. AR 473. Peet reported that he had been experiencing trouble sleeping and that he was feeling quick tempered. AR 473. Peet was diagnosed with PTSD and a mood disorder not otherwise specified. AR 480. His GAF score at that time was assessed at 53. AR 480. Peet received a recommendation to continue individual therapy in order to address his needs. AR 483.

Peet attended a therapy session at Pines Behavioral Health Services on November 11, 2008, where he identified several personal goals and discussed methods for achieving them. AR 484-91. He was scheduled for another session on November 18, 2008, but was later listed as a no-show. AR 492. Peet returned on December 17, 2008 and reported that he had been spending too much money lately. AR 493. According to Peet, he tended to spend money in order to combat boredom. AR 493. Peet was assisted in finding other activities to occupy his time and encouraged to pursue college. AR 493. On December 30, 2008, he was again listed as a no-show for his therapy session. AR 495. According to Peet, he returned to South Dakota in early 2009 to live with his mother and did not return to Pines Behavioral Health Services.

On June 1, 2009, after applying for disability benefits, Peet was referred to Dr. Craig Mills for a physical consultation. AR 502. Peet reported back pain and knee discomfort. AR 502. Dr. Mills ordered a series of x-rays. The first, an x-ray of Peet's lumbar spine, showed a mild dextrocurvature of the thoracolumbar spine. AR 499. There were no degenerative disc changes or fractures present. AR 499. Additionally, the x-ray showed no abnormal motion with flexion or extension. AR 499. The second, an x-ray of Peet's thoracic spine, did not show any degenerative abnormalities or factures. AR 500. The third, an x-ray of Peet's right foot, showed no abnormalities. AR 501.

On October 12, 2009, Peet was referred to Dr. Greg Swenson for a psychological consultation. AR 444. Peet reported that he is prone to becoming angry easily, which has manifested itself in the workplace, at times resulting in Peet's loss of employment because he became embroiled in aggressive conflicts with co-workers and supervisors. AR 444. Additionally, Peet explained that he is reminded of his abuser when he is around people of Asian descent. AR 444. Dr. Swenson noted that the combination of Peet's hearing loss and his aggressive tendencies have made it difficult for him to obtain or keep jobs. AR 447. Dr. Swenson diagnosed Peet with Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED), PTSD, and Dysthymic Disorder, [5] and ruled out diagnoses of ADHD or a learning disorder not otherwise specified. AR 448. Peet's GAF score at that time was assessed at 40. AR 448.

On April 2, 2012, Peet met with Sharon Hansen, a counselor, for an intake assessment. AR 533. Hansen's notes indicate that Peet was a self-referral and that he was encouraged to see her by his attorneys. AR 533. Peet reported changes in his behavior since the incidents of abuse at SDSD, such as his increased irritability, his desire to be isolated from other people, and his lack of ambition. AR 533. Hansen noted Peet's difficulties at work and in keeping employment. AR 533. Peet also reported that he experienced anxiety around people of Asian descent, as they remind him of his abuser. AR 533. Hansen opined that Peet exhibited symptoms of PTSD and depression, and assessed a GAF score of 50. AR 534-35. She recommended weekly therapy. AR 534.

Peet returned to see Hansen on April 4, 2012. AR 536. Her notes describe Peet's dissatisfaction with his court case and his belief that Tom did not face any real consequences for his actions. AR 536. Peet met with Hansen again on April 10, 2012. AR 537. Peet discussed the incidents of abuse that occurred at SDSD and reported that he still experienced trouble sleeping. AR 537. Peet felt, however, that he had made some progress on his anger issues. AR 537. On April 24, 2012, Peet returned to see Hansen for another therapy session. AR 615. Peet discussed looking for jobs in Michigan and his plans to attend his brother's wedding. AR 615. Hansen's notes state that Peet seemed to be more comfortable around others and that he had less anxiety in general. AR 615. According to the record, Peet's last therapy session with Hansen was April 30, 2012. AR 616. Hansen noted that Peet appeared to be more relaxed and that he was sleeping better. AR 616. Peet also had spent some time assisting his family with yard work and had went out to a ...

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