United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
TRACEY L. THOMAS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
NORA BARRY FISCHER, District Judge.
Tracey L. Thomas ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying her applications 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. This matter comes before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF. Nos. 9 and 11). The record has been developed at the administrative level. (ECF No. 7). For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 9) is granted in part and denied in part, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 11) is denied.
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff filed her applications on February 22, 2011, claiming disability since May 18, 2002 due to a learning disability, anxiety, and depression. (R. at 140-150, 161). Her applications were denied (R. at 56-73), and she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). (R. at 86-87). A hearing was held on May 30, 2012, wherein Plaintiff appeared and testified, and Francis Kimbley, an impartial vocational expert, also appeared and testified. (R. at 27-54). On June 29, 2013 the ALJ issued a written decision denying benefits. (R. at 11-23). Plaintiff's request for review by the Appeals Council was denied (R. at 1-6), rendering the Commissioner's decision final under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). She filed her complaint challenging the ALJ's decision on September 4, 2013 (ECF No. 3), and the parties subsequently filed cross-motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 9 and 11). Accordingly, the matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.
A. General Background
Plaintiff was thirty-six years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. (R. at 21, 23). She completed school through the ninth grade, and dropped out in the tenth grade after becoming pregnant. (R. at 36, 162). Plaintiff worked for three years as a food preparer. (R. at 162). Her school records revealed that she repeated the first grade and was in learning support classes. (R. at 193-197). During the second grade, Plaintiff was administered the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children ("WISC") in January 1985. (R. at 193). She achieved a verbal intelligence quotient ("IQ") score of 82, which was low average, a performance IQ score of 75, which was borderline, and a full scale IQ score of 78, which was borderline. (R. at 193). Plaintiff was again administered the WISC in 1987 while in the fourth grade. (R. at 195). This testing revealed that Plaintiff had a verbal IQ score of 69, a performance IQ score of 71, and a full scale IQ score of 69, indicating her functional level was "educable." (R. at 195). It was noted that her progress level was one to two years below her grade placement level, and it was recommended that planning for individualized placement occur at that point in time. (R. at 195).
B. Medical Background
Plaintiff was seen at Community Health Net for complaints of diverticulitis and anxiety on March 3, 2010, and Xanax was prescribed. (R. at 224-226). On March 16, 2010, Plaintiff complained of panic attacks after her mother was diagnosed with cancer, and Celexa was prescribed. (R. at 224). On March 17, 2010, Plaintiff called her provider and stated that she did not want to take Celexa after reading about the possible side effects. (R. at 224).
Plaintiff began seeing Gary Silko, M.D., at Saint Vincent Family Medicine Center for depression, anxiety, and eczema on May 4, 2010. (R. at 208-209). At her initial visit, Plaintiff complained of a recent episode of diverticulitis and an upper respiratory infection. (R. at 208). Her physical was unremarkable, and she was diagnosed with anxiety and colonic diverticulosis. (R. at 209). She was prescribed an anti-anxiety medication and an anti-depressant, as well as a medication for her gastrointestinal symptoms. (R. at 209). The next month, on June 16, 2010, Plaintiff telephoned Dr. Silko's office and expressed a concern regarding the accuracy of the dosage amount of her Celexa prescription. (R. at 220).
When she returned to Dr. Silko on January 25, 2011, Plaintiff complained of increased anxiety symptoms, reporting that her sons were getting ready to drive and her mother had recently died following a long illness. (R. at 206). Plaintiff indicated that her anti-anxiety medication helped "a little." (R. at 206). Plaintiff further complained of a rash on both hands for which an over-the-counter ointment had been ineffective. (R. at 206). Plaintiff stated that her hands were in dishwater and she did the laundry. (R. at 206). On physical examination, Dr. Silko observed cracking and fissuring of all fingers and dorsum of her hands. (R. at 206). She was diagnosed with anxiety, colonic diverticulosis and eczema. (R. at 207). Her anti-anxiety medication dosage was increased, and she was instructed on the use of steroid ointment and moisturizers for her hands, as well as the use of protective gloves. (R. at 207).
On May 19, 2011, Plaintiff underwent a psychological evaluation performed by Byron Hillin, Ph.D. (R. at 227-243). Dr. Hillin reported that Plaintiff was fully cooperative, provided information spontaneously, and "gave appropriate effort for psychological testing." (R. at 227). Plaintiff claimed an inability to work secondary to learning disabilities, anxiety and depression. (R. at 227). She stated that she had applied for several jobs, but had never been called back. (R. at 227). Plaintiff stated that the only job she had was for two years on a part-time basis making salads at a restaurant. (R. at 229). Plaintiff stated that she stopped working in 2002 after the business closed. (R. at 229).
Plaintiff reported that she sought treatment for increased stress after her mother was diagnosed with cancer. (R. at 228). She took Celexa and Xanax prescribed by her family physician, but denied any other form of psychiatric treatment. (R. at 227-228). Plaintiff described her mood as sad "sometimes" and described herself as an excessive worrier. (R. at 228). She stated she was in good medical health and had no restrictions. (R. at 228). Plaintiff reported that she had been diagnosed with learning disabilities in her early years and was in learning support classes throughout her educational history. (R. at 228). She indicated that she struggled with class work and had been held back in the fourth grade, but had no behavioral problems in school. (R. at 228). She dropped out of school in the tenth grade after becoming pregnant. (R. at 228).
Plaintiff reported that she lived with her boyfriend and five children, ages nineteen, seventeen, ten, nine, and five. (R. at 229). Her seventeen year old son received disability benefits for learning disabilities, and she was the payee. (R. at 229). Plaintiff was able to cook, clean, and shop, and denied any history of difficulties raising her children. (R. at 229). She had a driver's license, but seldom drove, stating that she received special help in getting her license secondary to her reading problems. (R. at 229). Plaintiff described her reading ability as "poor" and stated she was only able to read simple print. (R. at 228). She stated that her boyfriend helped her complete the disability forms and helped her pay bills. (R. at 228). Plaintiff indicated that she was shy and reserved, had few friends, and was mildly anxious in public. (R. at 229).
On mental status examination, Dr. Hillin reported that Plaintiff was alert, fully oriented, exhibited appropriate grooming and hygiene, and exhibited fair eye contact. (R. at 229). He observed her hands were red secondary to psoriasis, her gait was appropriate, and her motor behaviors were unremarkable. (R. at 229). Dr. Hillin indicated that Plaintiff's primary complaint was her long-term learning difficulties and her inability to help her children with their homework. (R. at 230). She also described increased anxiety since her mother's death, but felt her medications were helpful. (R. at 230). Plaintiff indicated that she felt self-conscious about her learning difficulties, feeling "stupid." (R. at 230). Dr. Hillin reported that her affect was mildly anxious, and her thoughts were relevant, coherent and goal directed. (R. at ...