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Rhodes v. Astrue

October 13, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLAUGHLIN, Sean J., J.


Plaintiff, Marianna Rhodes, commenced the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claims for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq, and § 1381 et seq. Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI on October 20, 2005, alleging disability since August 1, 2005, due to depression and panic attacks (Administrative Record, hereinafter "AR", 46-48; 70-71). Her applications were denied and she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") (AR 30-34). A hearing was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on May 9, 2007 (AR 190-233). Following this hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not entitled to a period of disability, DIB or SSI under the Act (AR 12-21). Her request for review by the Appeals Council was denied (AR 4-6), rendering the Commissioner's decision final under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The instant action challenges the ALJ's decision. Presently pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, both motions will be denied and the matter will be remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings.


Plaintiff was born on July 27, 1950 and was fifty-six years old on the date of the ALJ's decision (AR 46). She has a high school education and two years of college, with past relevant work experience as a telemarketer and property manager (AR 71; 74; 225).

On August 30, 2005, Plaintiff admitted herself to the hospital for alcohol detoxification, reporting depression and withdrawal symptoms when she tried to abstain from alcohol (AR 110). She reported a history of alcohol abuse with a period of sobriety lasting 15 to 17 years (AR 110). Plaintiff indicated that she suffered a relapse approximately four months prior following the death of her mother and husband (AR 110). Plaintiff underwent successful detoxification over a three day period, attending 12-Step meetings (AR 110). She was discharged in stable condition with instructions to abstain from alcohol, attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, continue taking Lexapro and follow the intensive outpatient aftercare plan (AR 111). Her final diagnosis was acute alcohol withdrawal, alcohol dependence, acute alcohol intoxication, chronic alcoholism, nicotine dependence, mood disorder not otherwise specified, and anxiety disorder not otherwise specified (AR 111).

Plaintiff underwent a psychosocial assessment performed by Karen Mentz, LCSW on September 19, 2005 at Safe Harbor Behavioral Health (AR 121-131). Plaintiff reported feeling depressed and overwhelmed by caring for her mother (AR 123). She was financially dependent upon her aunt, with whom she lived (AR 121). Plaintiff complained of sleep problems and appetite disturbances, as well as decreased energy and concentration (AR 123). Plaintiff reported alcohol abuse beginning at age 55 but that she had stopped drinking in August 2005 (AR 124). Other than her recent hospitalization for alcohol abuse, Plaintiff reported no past mental health treatment and was on no medications (AR 123; 131). She reported a history of physical abuse from her father, as well as emotional abuse from her aunt (AR 121; 125). Plaintiff indicated that she left her job three years prior to care for her mother (AR 126).

On mental status examination, Ms. Mentz reported that the Plaintiff was cooperative and appropriately dressed but exhibited psychomotor agitation (AR 128). She had a flat and tearful affect, her speech was pressured, rapid and over productive, and she had feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness and guilt (AR 129). Plaintiff was fully oriented with average intellect and cognitive functioning, and her judgment, insight and motivation were fair (AR 129; 131). Ms. Mentz diagnosed her with major depressive disorder, recurrent, and assessed a current and past year Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score of 45 (AR 130).*fn1 She recommended Plaintiff undergo individual and group therapy and psychiatric treatment at Safe Harbor (AR 131).

Plaintiff attended therapy sessions at Community Integration, Inc. on September 19, 2005, September 30, 2005 and October 11, 2005 (AR 133-135). Plaintiff identified her long range goals as eliminating panic attacks and anxiety, finishing college with a degree in psychology and starting a property management company (AR 133-134).

Plaintiff completed a Daily Activities Questionnaire on November 21, 2005, and stated that she was able to clean her own home, shop, cook and drive a car (AR 79-80). She indicated she had some problems getting along with her family, but had no trouble getting along with people in authority (AR 80). Although she had trouble starting and completing projects and was unable to plan each day, she had no difficulty understanding and carrying out instructions (AR 81). She stated she was able to report to work on time, maintain good attendance, keep up with her work, concentrate on her work for extended periods of time, accept changes in the workplace and get along with co-workers and supervisors (AR 82-83). Plaintiff reported that she did not belong to any clubs or groups, but visited with her son every four to five months (AR 80). She had trouble going out due to panic attacks (AR 83).

Plaintiff was psychologically evaluated on December 28, 2005 by Glenn Bailey, Ph.D. pursuant to the request of the Commissioner (AR 136-144). Plaintiff reported to Dr. Bailey that her family moved to the United States from Hungary when she was five years old (AR 136). She stated that her father was physically abusive to her at times (AR 136). Plaintiff reported that she had previously worked as an apartment complex manager for eight months but was fired due to a disagreement with her boss, and had not worked since May 2003 (AR 137). She further reported three previous suicide attempts and a past psychiatric hospitalization approximately 15 years ago (AR 137). She indicated she had been seeing a therapist since August 2005 and took 10 milligrams of Lexapro daily (AR 138). Plaintiff stated she had problems with alcohol abuse throughout her life, but had remained sober since her discharge from the hospital detoxification program in August 2005 (AR 138). Plaintiff informed Dr. Bailey that she had been depressed "a long time" and that she suffered from anxiety and a fluctuating appetite (AR 138-139). She reported a panic attack three weeks earlier while taking the bus (AR 138).

On mental status examination, Dr. Bailey reported that Plaintiff was pleasant and cooperative (AR 138). He administered the Folstein Mini-Mental Status Examination, which is a cognitive test, and the Plaintiff scored a 26 out of 30 (AR 139).*fn2 Her immediate memory was good and her short term memory was fair (AR 139). She was able to perform all but one of the serial 7's (AR 139). She was able to follow simple instructions and write a full sentence (AR 139). Her thought processes were intact, her speech was clear and concise, and she had no preoccupations, thought disturbances or ideas of reference (AR 139-140). Dr. Bailey found her abstract thinking was intact, and that her intellectual ability was in the average to possibly above average range (AR 140). Her impulse control was sufficient and there were no known problems with her social judgment, although it was not known whether she had problems when she was intoxicated (AR 140). Dr. Bailey stated that her insight appeared to be poor but he considered her prognosis good if she continued with psychotherapy (AR 141).

Plaintiff reported that she was generally able to perform activities of daily living, although at times she had difficulty keeping up with household chores (AR 141). She did not socialize and reported difficulty with concentration and attention due to anxiety (AR 141). Dr. Bailey recommended that she see a psychiatrist for medication review, attend AA meetings and see a therapist who specialized in substance abuse problems (AR 142). He diagnosed Plaintiff with panic attacks, anxiety and major depression, recurrent, and assigned her a GAF score of 60 (AR 142).*fn3

In connection with his evaluation, Dr. Bailey completed a Mental Functional Assessment form and concluded that Plaintiff was not limited in her ability to understand, remember, and carry out short, simple instructions; was only slightly limited in her ability to interact appropriately with the public, supervisors and co-workers; and was only moderately limited in her ability to understand and remember detailed instructions, make judgments on simple work-related decisions and respond appropriately to work pressures and changes in a routine work setting (AR 143).

On January 11, 2006, Roger Glover, Ph.D., a state agency reviewing psychologist, completed a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment form, and found that Plaintiff was not significantly limited in a number of areas, but was moderately limited in her ability to understand, remember and carry out detailed instructions; maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; interact appropriately with the public; respond appropriately to work changes; and set realistic goals or make plans independently of others (AR 158-159). According to Dr. Glover, Plaintiff remained capable of understanding and remembering instructions, concentrating, interacting appropriately with people, adapting to changing activities within the workplace, asking simple questions, accepting instruction and could maintain regular attendance and be punctual (AR 160). Dr. Glover found she could function in a production ...

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