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Galvin v. Astrue

July 22, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nora Barry Fischer United States District Judge

Judge Nora Barry Fischer


I. Introduction

Plaintiff Joan Galvin ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("SSA") 42 U.S.C. §§401-433, 1381-1383(f). This matter comes before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment filed by the parties pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Docket Nos. 8 and 10). For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [8] is DENIED and the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment [10] is GRANTED.

II. Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI on November 21, 2005, alleging disability due to depression, with an onset date of November 1, 2003. (Docket No. 6-1 at 60-62; R. at 58-60) (hereinafter "R. at ___"). Plaintiff's claims were initially denied by the Commissioner on June 30, 2006. (R. at 11). Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). (R. at 11-24). A hearing was held before an ALJ on November 14, 2007. (R. at 34-37; 182-226). Plaintiff appeared and testified, without the assistance of counsel.*fn1 (R. at 14, 182-226). On January 22, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision, denying Plaintiff's claims and concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (R. at 23-24). Plaintiff filed a timely appeal of the ALJ's determination on February 11, 2008. (R. at 4). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on August 14, 2008. (R. at 4-6). Having exhausted all administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed this action on September 22, 2008, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. (Docket No. 1). Plaintiff filed her Motion for Summary Judgment and Brief in Support on February 9, 2009. (Docket Nos. 8 and 9). The Commissioner filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and Brief in Support on March 2, 2009. (Docket Nos. 10 and 11). Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a Reply Brief on March 27, 2009. (Docket No. 14).

III. Factual Background

Plaintiff was born on January 7, 1960, (R. at 31), making her 43 years old as of her alleged onset date. (Id.). She completed her high school degree and a post- high school business program.

(R. at 216). Her past relevant work*fn2 includes work as a real estate secretary, office manager, mail clerk/candler*fn3 and dry cleaner worker. (R. at 217-218).

A. Plaintiff's Medical Background

1. Records from Plaintiff's Mental Health Care Providers

At the request of her primary care physician, Plaintiff went to the Turtle Creek Valley Mental Health/Mental Retardation Clinic ("Turtle Creek") for a psychological assessment on January 10, 2006. (R. at 104). An initial clinical assessment was performed by Angela Hauck, a licensed social worker. (Id.). At the time of the assessment, Plaintiff reported to Ms. Hauck that she had felt depressed for about five years. (Id.). She expressed feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and lack of confidence. (R. at 110). Additionally, she indicated that she suffered from poor concentration, crying spells, decreased sleep and lack of energy or motivation. (Id.). At this time, she denied any suicidal or homicidal ideation, but did report having a "death wish." (R. at 107- 110). Plaintiff reported that she had suffered physical and emotional abuse from her ex-husband, whom she divorced in 2004. (R. at 111). She also reported that she become the primary caretaker of her grandson in 2002. (R. at 110). Plaintiff indicated that she had been taking Wellbutrin*fn4 prior to this assessment as it was prescribed by her primary care physician. (R. at 116). She reported that the Wellbutrin helped to decrease her crying spells. (Id.). Ms. Hauck's assessment was that Plaintiff suffered from Major Depressive Disorder and assigned her a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF")*fn5 score of 50. (R. at 115).

On January 11, 2006, Plaintiff was seen by a psychiatrist, Dr. Gail Kubrin, for a psychiatric evaluation.*fn6 (R. at 117). Records from Plaintiff's visit with Dr. Kubrin indicate that Plaintiff had been treated for depression by her primary care physician since 1997. (Id.). She had been prescribed Zoloft,*fn7 Wellbutrin and Lexapro.*fn8 (Id. at 120). Plaintiff reported that she had feelings of fear and confusion. (Id.) She also reported that her moods went up and down for the year and a half time period prior to Dr. Kubrin's assessment. (Id. at 117-119). Additionally, she reported that she had trouble getting out of bed during that time period. (Id.). The records also indicate that Plaintiff reported occasional marijuana use. (R. at 118). She also reported to Dr. Kubrin that she drank during Christmas and New Year's of 2005 and blacked out during this time period. (Id.). She also advised that she goes out to clubs every other weekend. (Id.). Prior to her appointment with Dr. Kubrin, she had a beer but denied being intoxicated. (Id.). Plaintiff also reported, at the time of the examination, that she smoked one pack of cigarettes per day. (Id.).

Based on the examination and the assessment performed by Angela Hauck, Dr.Kubrin diagnosed Plaintiff as having major depressive disorder, characterized by a moderate single major depressive episode. (R. at 119). Dr. Kubrin recommended that Plaintiff's Wellbutrin decrease and that she start taking Effexor.*fn9 (Id.). Additionally, Dr. Kubrin recommended that Plaintiff decrease and/or stop alcohol intake and that she begin therapy. (Id.).

Plaintiff saw Dr. Kubrin again on February 15, 2006. (R. at 121). At that time, Plaintiff indicated that she was sleeping better and not crying as much. (Id.). She further indicated that she still lacked energy and interest, but did state that was going out every other weekend and drinking on Friday and Saturday evenings. (R. at 121-122). Dr. Kubrin increased Plaintiff's dosage of Effexor and restarted Wellbutrin. (R. at 122).

Progress notes from Turtle Creek indicate that Plaintiff was next seen by Dr. Kubrin in September of 2006. (R. at 148-150). The records indicate that, during this visit, Plaintiff was tearful and upset. (R. at 149). Dr. Kubrin also noted that Plaintiff continued to drink. (R. at 150),*fn10 and that Plaintiff reported trouble sleeping and vivid, disturbing dreams. (Id.). At this time, Dr. Kubrin recommended that Plaintiff stop drinking alcohol and continue with therapy. (Id.). Plaintiff was assigned a GAF score of 45 at this time and her diagnoses included major depressive disorder and continuous alcohol abuse. (R. at 164).

Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Kubrin again in October of 2006. (R. at 146). Dr. Kubrin noted moderate progress. (Id.). At that time, Plaintiff reported that she felt better a few days after her medication was adjusted. (Id.). Plaintiff also reported that she felt less helpless and hopeless. (Id.). She indicated that she was working on her house, going out with friends and that she liked the winter and fall months. (R. at 147). She also stated that her boyfriend helped her to get out of the house more during the summer months. (Id.). Dr. Kubrin noted that Plaintiff was doing well and had quit smoking. (Id.). She recommended that Plaintiff continue therapy and increase her activity level. (Id.). In December of 2006, Plaintiff indicated that she "still gets to have some fun." (R. at 166). She was prescribed Effexor, Wellbutrin and Topamax*fn11 and directed to continue therapy with Angela Houck. (Id.). It was also recommended that Plaintiff decrease her alcohol intake. (Id.).

Medical records from Turtle Creek dated February 21, 2007 indicate that Plaintiff had made mild progress. (R. at 162). She reported that her sleep was disturbed, but that she was able to fall asleep quickly. (R. at 163). Additionally, she reported that she continued to drink two to three days per week. (Id.). Dr. Kubrin recommended that she see a therapist more regularly. (Id.).

2. Records from Consultative Examiner

Plaintiff was referred to James E. Williams, a licensed psychologist at Suburban Psychological Services for a Clinical Psychological Disability Evaluation. (R. at 124). The evaluation was done on April 24, 2006. (Id.). The records from the evaluation indicate that Plaintiff had no history of psychiatric hospitalization. (R. at 125). Additionally, Plaintiff reported that she experienced numbness, pain and difficulty with dexterity as a result of an automobile accident. (Id.). Plaintiff also reported that her sleep had previously been affected, but that it was improving prior to the evaluation. (Id.). Additionally, Plaintiff stated that she experienced pain, depression and anxiety. (Id.). At this time, Plaintiff was oriented to the exact time, as well as place, person, object and her own ego identity. (Id.). Dr. Williams noted Plaintiff's ability to provide serial sevens from 100 and to provide the correct capitals of several countries. (R. at 125). Dr. Williams' impression was that Plaintiff suffered from major depression, characterized as single episode and moderate, as well as a tobacco addiction. (Id.). He assigned a GAF score of 50. (Id.). Based on the evaluation, Dr. Williams opined that Plaintiff had slight impairments in her ...

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