United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
CATHY BISSOON, District Judge.
For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 8) will be granted, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 10) will be denied.
Plaintiff Stephanie Leigh Andrenok ("Andrenok") protectively applied for supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits on March 25, 2010, alleging that she had become "disabled" on January 16, 2010. (R. at 128, 141). Pennsylvania's Bureau of Disability Determination denied the application on July 12, 2010. (R. at 75). Andrenok responded on July 20, 2010, by filing a request for an administrative hearing. (R. at 88-90). On August 23, 2011, a hearing was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Leslie Perry-Dowdell. (R. at 49). Andrenok, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at the hearing. (R. at 53-67). Dr. Charles Cohen, an impartial vocational expert, provided testimony about the expectations of employers existing in the national economy. (R. at 67-71). In a decision dated September 15, 2011, the ALJ determined that Andrenok was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act. (R. at 8-21).
On November 3, 2011, Andrenok sought administrative review of the ALJ's decision by filing a request for review with the Appeals Council. (R. at 6-7). The Appeals Council denied the request for review on April 5, 2013, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") in this case. (R. at 1). Andrenok commenced this action on May 30, 2013, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. (Docs. 1 & 2). Andrenok and the Commissioner later filed cross-motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 8 & 10). Those motions are now ripe for adjudication.
Andrenok was born on February 24, 1988. (R. at 53). She graduated from high school in 2007 and subsequently received an associate's degree in business administration from the Laurel Business Institute. (R. at 53, 59). After finishing school, Andrenok periodically worked as a customer service representative and telemarketer for several different employers. (R. at 54-55, 67, 148). She generally performed her duties on a part-time basis. (R. at 55).
Andrenok was involved in a motor vehicle accident on December 22, 2009. (R. at 230-233, 245, 293-295). The accident apparently occurred because a vehicle operated by Andrenok slid on a patch of ice and crashed into a telephone pole. (R. at 245). In the immediate aftermath of the accident, Andrenok was treated at Uniontown Hospital's emergency room. (R. at 230-233, 245, 293-295). A computed tomography ("CT") scan of her head yielded normal results. (R. at 231, 293). X-rays of her spine detected no evidence of an acute fracture. (R. at 232-233, 294-295).
After the accident, Andrenok continued to experience pain in her back. (R. at 245). On January 7, 2010, she informed her treating physicians that her pain medications were causing her to feel nauseated. (R. at 245). Andrenok stopped working on January 16, 2010. (R. at 147). At the hearing, Andrenok testified that she had stopped working because of panic attacks and migraine headaches. (R. at 55). She stated that she had been experiencing panic attacks since reaching the age of twelve. (R. at 55). When questioned about the duration of her panic attacks, Andrenok asserted that she typically needed to spend up to five hours in bed after suffering a panic attack. (R. at 56-57). She complained of "full-blown" panic attacks occurring on a weekly basis. (R. at 57). Andrenok further testified that her panic attacks typically left her with a "nauseous feeling" and weakness in her legs. (R. at 57). She described a correlation between her panic attacks and migraine headaches, stating that they would usually "try to fight each other off." (R. at 58).
On June 22, 2010, Dr. Thomas E. Andrews performed a consultative psychological evaluation of Andrenok in connection with her application for SSI benefits. (R. at 321-328). During the evaluation, Andrenok "was able to perform all tasks and respond to questions without any obvious impairment to her concentration or her focus of attention." (R. at 328). She exhibited "no signs of anxiety." (R. at 327). Based on the findings of his evaluation, Dr. Andrews reported that Andrenok had "marked" limitations in her abilities to make judgments concerning simple work-related decisions, respond appropriately to work pressures in a usual work setting, respond appropriately to changes in a routine work setting, and interact appropriately with supervisors and co-workers. (R. at 322). Andrenok was deemed to be "moderately" limited in her abilities to interact appropriately with members of the general public and understand, remember and carry out detailed instructions. (R. at 322). Dr. Andrews recommended that Andrenok undergo psychotherapy focusing on her "panic problems." (R. at 328).
Dr. Edward Jonas, a non-examining psychological consultant, opined on June 30, 2010, that Andrenok was "able to meet the basic mental demands of competitive work on a sustained basis despite the limitations resulting from her impairment." (R. at 345). In the narrative portion of his report, Dr. Jonas explained:
The claimant's ability to understand and remember complex or detailed instructions is limited, however [sic], she would be expected to understand and remember simple one and two step instructions. She can make simple decisions. She has a history of frequent panic attacks. She is capable of asking simple questions and accepting instruction. Moreover, she evidences some limitation in dealing with work stresses and public contact.
(R. at 345). Dr. Jonas found some of the limitations described in Dr. Andrews's assessment to be "without substantial support from the other evidence of record." (R. at 345). Dr. Paul Reardon, a nonexamining medical consultant, reported on July 2, 2010, that Andrenok had no physical limitations. (R. at 347-353).
Andrenok continued to experience pain in her back during the fall of 2010. (R. at 363). She complained that chiropractic treatment had made her condition worse. (R. at 363). On November 22, 2010, a magnetic resonance imaging ("MRI") scan of Andrenok's lumbar spine yielded normal results. (R. at 469).
Dr. Melissa Albert, a treating psychiatrist, completed a questionnaire about Andrenok's mental limitations on December 3, 2010. (R. at 393-397). In the questionnaire, Dr. Albert asserted that Andrenok had "extreme" limitations in her maintenance of social functioning and in her maintenance of concentration, persistence or pace. (R. at 396). Andrenok's activities of daily living were described as being "markedly" limited. (R. at 396). Dr. Albert reported that Andrenok had experienced four or more extended episodes of decompensation during the previous twelve months. (R. at 396). Andrenok's limitations were attributed to a "residual disease process that ha[d] resulted in such marginal adjustment that even a minimal increase in mental demands or change in the environment would be predicted to cause [her] to decompensate." (R. at 397). Dr. Albert predicted that Andrenok would need to miss more than four days of ...