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Amanda Sue Hutton v. Michael J. Astrue

September 29, 2011


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



Amanda Sue Hutton ("Plaintiff"), commenced the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), 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 filed her applications on June 11, 2007, alleging disability since October 31, 2001 due to hypertension, depression and obesity (AR 122-145; 168 ).*fn1 Her applications were denied, and she requested an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") (AR 86-88; 104). Following a hearing held on May 28, 2009 (AR 58-85), the ALJ concluded, in a written decision dated June 15, 2009, that Plaintiff was not entitled to a period of disability, DIB or SSI under the Act (AR 11-23). Plaintiff‟s request for review by the Appeals Council was denied (AR 1-4), 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 the parties‟ cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner‟s motion will be denied and the Plaintiff‟s motion will be granted only to the extent she seeks a remand for further consideration.


Plaintiff was 24 years old on the date of the ALJ‟s decision, has a high school education and past relevant work experience as an assembler and cashier (AR 21; 169; 172). Plaintiff claims disability on the basis of both her physical and mental impaiments.

Physical Impairments

Plaintiff was treated by Renato Ramirez, M.D., her primary care physician, for hypertension, obesity and complaints of edema (AR 227-234; 273-285). Treatment notes from July 2004 through June 2007 revealed that Plaintiff complained at times of back pain and leg swelling, but her physical examinations were generally unremarkable, except obesity was noted (AR 231-232; 273-274; 276-277; 279). In May 2007, Dr. Ramirez noted some swelling in her lower legs, but no swelling was noted in her physical examinations in September and October 2007 (AR 276-277; 279). Plaintiff had negative straight-leg raising, good reflexes, and no difficulty with walking (AR 227; 229; 231-234; 274-277).

Dr. Ramirez also treated Plaintiff for hypertension, and the medical record reflects blood pressure readings of 136/96 on March 30, 2005, 128/84 on May 13, 2005, 130/84 on June 6, 2005 and 128/72 on June 26, 2007 (AR 183; 271; 276). On June 21, 2007, Dr. Ramirez reported that Plaintiff felt better on her blood pressure medication (AR 227).

Plaintiff also suffered from obesity and was "strongly" advised to lose weight through diet and exercise (AR 227; 234; 278). In January 2009, Plaintiff‟s weight was recorded at 237 pounds (AR 273). Plaintiff reported that despite her weight loss efforts she continued to gain weight and requested a referral for bariatric surgery (AR 273). On March 5, 2009, Etwar McBean, M.D., stated that based upon Plaintiff‟s current weight of 242 pounds and a BMI of 42.9, she would benefit from bariatric surgery (AR 398).

On October 25, 2007, Charles Wansor, a state agency adjudicator, reviewed the medical evidence of record and concluded that Plaintiff had no physical exertional or non-exertional limitations (AR 266-272).

Mental Impairments

Plaintiff has a history of residential and outpatient psychiatric treatment, medication and counseling (AR 286-395; 345-395). She was placed in various foster care institutions and group homes as a teenager (AR 286-344). Plaintiff exhibited behavior problems, such as running away, truancy, oppositional behavior and underage drinking (AR 286-287; 326-329). A psychiatric evaluation dated February 17, 2000 noted that Plaintiff had a history of suicidal ideations and reported symptoms of depression (AR 326-328).

On December 12, 2001, Mary Anne Albaugh, M.D., a child psychiatrist, completed a discharge summary with respect to Plaintiff‟s placement in the Sarah Reed Foster Family Based Treatment Program (AR 390-395). Dr. Albaugh reported Plaintiff‟s shelter placement history, noting that she was removed from her home in March 1997 after alleging sexual abuse by her stepfather (AR 390). Dr. Albaugh reported that in August 2000 Plaintiff presented with significant symptoms of depression, including "low mood," sleep disturbances, poor concentration, decreased energy and suicidal ideations (AR 390-391). She noted however, that Plaintiff responded "very well" to antidepressant treatment and her mood and sleep stabilized (AR 391). Plaintiff also participated in individual therapy which had been helpful (AR 392-393). Plaintiff‟s medications were discontinued in March 2001 at her request (AR 392). Dr. Albaugh reported that Plaintiff continued to function well and her concentration remained on track (AR 392). She was very successful in school and actively participated in the work study program (AR 392-393). Plaintiff was able to maintain her job at a Sheetz Car Stop, and was a "good worker" (AR 392). Dr. Albaugh started Plaintiff on a trial of Zoloft in September 2001for her complaints of a depressed mood and fatigue (AR 393). It was noted that Plaintiff married and she was subsequently discharged from the Sarah Reed program on October 29, 2001 (AR 394). Dr. Albaugh diagnosed Plaintiff with major depression recurrent, with recent recurrent depressive symptoms, post-traumatic stress disorder and oppositional defiant disorder by history (AR 394). She assigned her a global assessment of functioning*fn2 ("GAF") score of 60 to 62 (AR 394).

Approximately four years later, Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Ramirez on May 13, 2005 and complained of depression post pregnancy (AR 229). She stated that she had been treated with Prozac and was subsequently prescribed Zoloft, but it caused anger, irritability, and migraine type headaches (AR 229). Plaintiff requested an antidepressant and Dr. Ramirez advised her that Topamax would treat her migraine headaches and her depression (AR 229). Dr. Ramirez noted that Plaintiff was tearful on examination, and he recommended family counseling (AR 229).

On August 5, 2005, Gerard Francis, M.D., performed an initial psychiatric evaluation (AR 236-237). Plaintiff stated that she had been married for four years and had two boys, ages one and two (AR 236). She reported a past history of depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") (AR 236). Dr. Francis noted Plaintiff‟s "very chaotic past" after being sexually and physically abused by her stepfather, and noted her placement in various foster care institutions up until 2001 (AR 236). Plaintiff stated that she had been doing "well" since getting married in 2001, but had noted increasing mood swings, irritability, agitation, and "flying off the handle easily" (AR 236). Plaintiff denied suicidal ideations at the time of the evaluation, as well as the past few years prior to the evaluation (AR 236).

On mental status examination, Dr. Francis reported that Plaintiff was overweight and appeared anxious (Ar 237). She exhibited "fairly good eye contact" and her speech was normal, with the exception of being of low tone and rate (AR 237). Dr. Francis found her thoughts were organized and goal directed, and her insight and judgment were fair (AR 237). Plaintiff‟s attention, concentration and intelligence were all reported within normal limits (AR 237). Dr. Francis diagnosed Plaintiff with bipolar disorder, mixed, and PTSD, prolonged (AR 237). He assigned her a GAF score of 55-60 and prescribed Depakote (AR 237).

Plaintiff returned to Dr. Francis on September 15, 2005 and reported that she stopped taking her medication because she thought she was pregnant (AR 238). She noted, however, that the Depakote had helped her "significantly" in that she was less "snappy," her mood was stable and she denied any suicidal thoughts (AR 238). Dr. Francis reported that Plaintiff was pleasant, cooperative, well-mannered and made good eye contact (AR 238). Her speech was clear and precise, and her thoughts were organized and goal directed (AR 238). Dr. Francis observed that she was casually dressed and fairly well groomed (AR 238). Plaintiff denied any suicidal thoughts, and requested a prescription for Depakote to be filled only if she was not pregnant (AR 238). Dr. Francis diagnosed her with bipolar disorder and PTSD, prolonged (AR 238). He assigned her a GAF score of 55-60, and directed her not to take any medications until her pregnancy status was verified (AR 238).

On October 3, 2007, Julie Uran, Ph.D., performed a clinical psychological disability evaluation of Plaintiff (AR 239-244). Plaintiff stated that she had been married for six years and had two sons, ages three and four (AR 239). Plaintiff reported that she had a daughter that died in 2006 after living for four hours following her birth (AR 239). Plaintiff stated that she was last employed in 2002, and would likely have difficulty sustaining employment due to problems with bending, as well as uncontrolled blood pressure and associated dizziness (AR 239). She claimed she suffered from headaches several times per week (AR 239).

Plaintiff stated that her depressive episodes occurred more frequently, and included overwhelming feelings of sadness, loss of interest in all activities, significant eating and sleeping disturbances, and agitation (AR 240). She claimed she could not sleep for more than one and one half hours per night (AR 240). Plaintiff reported fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt and impaired concentration (AR 240). She claimed she sometimes experienced suicidal thoughts, and had made three prior attempts, with the most recent attempt occurring in 1999 (AR 240). She stated that she had received mental health counseling and medications in the past, and although she was currently prescribed Zoloft and Cymbalta by her primary care physician, she did not take these medications (AR 240).

On mental status examination, Dr. Uran reported that Plaintiff was fully alert and oriented, and no abnormal body movement was observed (AR 241). Plaintiff was cooperative, her speech was coherent and spontaneous, her mood and affect were situationally appropriate, her thought processes were normal, and there was no evidence of perceptual disturbance (AR 241). Dr. Uran noted that there was evidence of excessive rumination regarding her daughter‟s death, and that the Plaintiff appeared guarded or suspicious of others (AR 241). She further concluded that the Plaintiff‟s memory was intact and her social judgment was appropriate for her age, mental abilities and experiences (AR 242). Dr. Uran found Plaintiff was of average intelligence (AR 241). Plaintiff evidenced difficulties with impulse control as marked by displays of anger, and her capacity to gain insight was limited (AR 242). Dr. Uran reported that Plaintiff was motivated and interested in mental health treatment (AR 242). She diagnosed Plaintiff with major depression, recurrent, PTSD; primary insomnia; anxiety ...

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