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King v. Astrue

August 12, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sean J. McLaughlin United States District Judge



Nicole King ("Plaintiff") brings this appeal from the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("SSA"), 42 U.S.C. §§423, et. seq. and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the SSA, 42 U.S.C. §1381, et.seq. This court has jurisdiction over the Plaintiff's appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g) and 42 U.S.C. §1381(c)(3). Currently pending before the Court are the parties' cross- motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Plaintiff's motion will be denied and the Commissioner's motion will be granted.


A. Procedural Background

Plaintiff protectively filed for SSI and DIB on July 20, 2005, alleging disability due to mental health disorders, including bipolar disorder and psychosis, with an onset date of February 2, 2003. She maintained insured status as of her alleged disability onset date through September 30, 2007 (AR 49). Plaintiff's claim was initially denied by the Commissioner on October 19, 2005 (AR 33). A hearing was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on October 22, 2007 (AR 170-189). By decision dated November 7, 2007, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits (AR 14-22). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's determination on May 29, 2008 (AR 3-7). Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff timely filed a complaint in this Court, seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner on June 19, 2008 (AR 3). Presently pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment (Doc. No. 8 and Doc. No. 9).

B. Plaintiff's Medical Background

At the time of the ALJ's determination, Plaintiff was twenty-seven years old (AR 21, 49). She testified at the administrative hearing that she has a ninth grade education and later completed her GED (AR 174). Plaintiff had not worked for two and one half years prior to the administrative hearing and had last worked as a baby-sitter for a friend (AR 174-175). Plaintiff previously worked at a doughnut shop from September 2002 through February 2003, and her responsibilities included making doughnuts and cleaning (AR 175). Prior to that position, Plaintiff held several other positions at various employers for short periods of time (AR 177-180).

Plaintiff testified that she was unable to work because she was "not good with people" (AR 183). Specifically, she stated:

A. ... I have a tendency to speak before I think, which makes me rude. I don't-- I just- I don't handle being around people all that well. ...

A. I got a problem with getting along with everybody. I don't leave my house that much because I'm- I don't like being around other people. ....

A. Makes me very nervous and uptight. ...

A. I only leave the house if I need to go grocery shopping or do my laundry or go to my Stairways appointments. The rest of the time I stay in my house because I just - I can't deal being around people.

(AR 183). Plaintiff also testified that she had problems concentrating and was unable to finish projects (AR 184). She claimed that she had "good days" and "bad days," and that on some days she had lots of energy and could not sleep, but on other days she had no energy and was unable to stay awake (AR 184). Plaintiff testified that she had to be reminded to complete chores around the house (AR 185). Plaintiff was able to read, watch television and walked or took the bus to the grocery store and appointments (AR 186). She regularly saw a counselor for mental health treatment (AR 187).

In support of her application for DIB and SSI, Plaintiff offered medical records from her treating mental health care providers at Stairways Behavioral Health Outpatient Clinic ("Stairways") dated November 1, 2004 through January 10, 2007. According to these records, Plaintiff began seeing Dr. Gordon Bushell at Stairways in November 2004 (AR 126). Dr. Bushell noted that Plaintiff began psychiatric treatment at the age of sixteen and was hospitalized at St. Vincent's Hospital after becoming suicidal and homicidal (AR 126). Plaintiff reported to Dr. Bushell that she was diagnosed as bipolar in her teens and that she had been "intermittently" treated with medication, including Effexor, prior to her intial visit at Stairways (AR 126). Dr. Bushell noted that, at the time of the initial examination in November 2004, Plaintiff was not actively suicidal or homicidal (AR 126). He noted that Plaintiff's background included "serious family pathology" and that, at that time, she smoked marijuana daily (AR 126-127). Dr. Bushell diagnosed her with depression not otherwise specified, cannabis dependence and ...

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