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Brianne Bridgett Huey v. Michael J. Astrue

June 6, 2012


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



Brianne Bridgett Huey ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "Commissioner") denying her application 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 -- 433, 1381 -- 1383f ("Act"). This matter comes before the court on cross motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 9, 11). The record has been developed at the administrative level. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.


Plaintiff applied*fn1 for DIB on June 14, 2010, and SSI on June 12, 2010, claiming a disability onset of September 26, 2009. (R. at 137 -- 49). Her claimed inability to work full-time allegedly stems from a number of mental impairments including anxiety disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), obsessive compulsive disorder ("OCD"), and bipolar disorder. (R. at 165). Plaintiff was initially denied benefits on July 28, 2010. (R. at 77 -- 86). A hearing was scheduled for May 24, 2011, and Plaintiff appeared to testify, represented by counsel. (R. at 27 -- 60). A vocational expert also testified. (R. at 27 -- 60). The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued her decision denying benefits to Plaintiff on June 10, 2011. (R. at 9 -- 26). Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, which request was denied on December 2, 2011, thereby making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. at 1 -- 5).

Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this court on January 12, 2012. (ECF No. 3). Defendant filed his Answer on March 23, 2012. (ECF No. 6). Cross motions for summary judgment followed. (ECF Nos. 9, 11).


A. General Background

Plaintiff was born April 2, 1979 and was thirty two*fn2 years of age at the time of her administrative hearing. (R. at 32). Plaintiff resided with her husband, to whom she had recently been married on October 31, 2010. (R. at 32). Plaintiff's sole source of income was her husband's Social Security disability benefits. (R. at 33). Plaintiff graduated from high school, and completed approximately one year of college in furtherance of a degree in Psychology. (R. at 33 -- 36). Plaintiff last worked for two days in April 2010. (R. at 33 -- 36). She had made no attempts to find work following that time. (R. at 33 -- 36). Her last full-time position was as a stockperson/cashier for Wal-Mart in 2004 -- 2005. (R. at 33 -- 36).

In her own self-report dated June 23, 2010, Plaintiff claimed that she was unable to work due to bipolar disorder, anxiety, OCD, depression, and panic. (R. at 193). Sometimes Plaintiff's sleep was disturbed. (R. at 187). She complained that personal care tasks such as dressing and bathing caused her anxiety, and she had to force herself to complete these tasks on a regular basis. (R. at 187). Plaintiff felt unable to multi-task or concentrate. (R. at 188, 191). She avoided being around others. (R. at 191). Stressful situations allegedly caused panic attacks. (R. at 192).

Plaintiff spent most of her day reading, watching television, and occasionally going to the library. (R. at 186). She would take a walk outside approximately once a week, independently.

(R. at 189). Plaintiff went grocery shopping once a week for two hours. (R. at 189). She was capable of occasionally washing dishes. (R. at 188). Plaintiff paid bills, could count change, and could use money orders, but claimed that she was incapable of keeping track of her account balances. (R. at 189).

B. Medical History

On February 18, 2009, Plaintiff visited a family health clinic at Latrobe Hospital in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. (R. at 213). She complained of anxiety, mood swings, and depression.

(R. at 213). She was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. (R. at 213). She was provided with prescription Klonopin*fn3 and Celexa*fn4 . (R. at 213).

Plaintiff received psychiatric care at Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services ("SPHS") beginning in August 2009 and ending in January 2010. In an initial assessment, Plaintiff was noted to complain of depression, anxiety, and OCD. (R. at 231 -- 39). Plaintiff further complained of low energy, poor sleep, irritable mood, significant worry and anxiety, panic attacks, mood swings, low self-esteem, difficulty with concentration and memory, racing thoughts, poor decision making, hallucinations, and paranoia. (R. at 231 -- 39). Plaintiff claimed that she experienced suicidal ideation for years, and had attempted suicide on multiple occasions.

(R. at 231 -- 39). She also endorsed anger to the point of feeling homicidal. (R. at 231 -- 39). SPHS staff observed that Plaintiff had a normal appearance, normal thought content/process, no hallucinations, normal cognition, no delusions, normal affect, normal mood, normal orientation, and normal memory. (R. at 231 -- 39). Plaintiff was noted to have an upcoming mental health disability hearing, and that she had both a legal and personal interest in engaging in therapy. (R. at 229). However, Plaintiff's complaints appeared to SPHS staff to be genuine. (R. at 230). Plaintiff reported that she felt that she would improve with medication and counseling. (R. at 229 -- 30).

Plaintiff was evaluated by a physician at SPHS on October 29, 2009. (R. at 223 -- 225). The physician recorded Plaintiff's complaints of depression, anxiety, and OCD. (R. at 223 -- 225). Plaintiff's history of mental illness, however, was described as vague. (R. at 223 -- 225). Plaintiff appeared calmer and more relaxed than her complaints would suggest, she was not in distress, and did not exhibit any symptoms of depression or anxiety. (R. at 223 -- 225). She had no suicidal or homicidal ideation. (R. at 223 -- 225). Plaintiff's perceptions were normal. (R. at 223 -- 225). Her thought processes were ingrained, and her insight was limited. (R. at 223 -- 225). Plaintiff was ultimately diagnosed with anxiety disorder, OCD, and bipolar disorder. (R. at 223 -- 225). She was assessed a global assessment of functioning*fn5 ("GAF") score of 60. (R. at 223 -- 225).

Plaintiff only appeared for two medication checks at SPHS. (R. at 221 -- 22). On those occasions, Plaintiff was generally observed to be clean, pleasant, and well-dressed. (R. at 221 -- 22). Her cognition was fair, she had some anxiety, and she had some insight. (R. at 221 -- 22). Her speech was organized. (R. at 221 -- 22). She endorsed little or no suicidal ideation, and had no plan. (R. at 221 -- 22). Plaintiff was discharged from SPHS on or about January 12, 2010 due to relocation. (R. at 226 -- 28). Her GAF score at the time was 59. (R. at 221 -- 22). She had only managed modest improvement in symptoms ...

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