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Scott v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 1, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


TERRENCE F. McVERRY, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Susan Helen Scott ("Plaintiff") brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), which denied her application for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383(f). The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment, with briefs in support, and the Commissioner has also filed a reply brief. (ECF Nos. 8-12). The record was thoroughly developed at the administrative level. (ECF Nos. 6-1 through 6-10). Accordingly, the motions are ripe for disposition.

II. Background

A. Facts

Plaintiff was born on November 4, 1979. (R. 24). She has a high-school education in a learning support curriculum. (R. 24). She is unmarried and is the mother of two minor children, ages 11 and 7 years. (R. 24). She alleges disability as of January 1, 2002, due to "depression, anxiety, social problems, boils, [and] stomach pain, " with past relevant work experience as a personal care aide in a nursing home. (R. 26, 182). Years prior to alleging disability, she also worked at various fast-food restaurants and a hotel. (R. 183). Moreover, starting in January 2010, she worked at a factory job for two months, (R. 38), and at the time of the administrative hearing, she was working part-time as a dishwasher at a restaurant, (R. 41). Nevertheless, the ALJ found that this did not amount to substantial gainful activity. (R. 22).

1. Evidence Related to Plaintiff's Alleged Mental Health Impairments

On July 2, 2009, Plaintiff presented to the Irene Stacy Community Mental Health Center ("Irene Stacy") for a psychiatric evaluation with Randon Simmons, M.D., and Dennis Love, a physician assistant, complaining of depression and anxiety. (R. 224-30). Plaintiff reported that her symptoms began when she was about 10 years old but had recently worsened. (R. 224). She also reported that she had never attempted to treat her conditions. (R. 224). Despite her conditions, Plaintiff explained that she could take care of her children, though she did sometimes put off housework. (R. 224). Upon examination, Plaintiff displayed fluent speech, maintained good eye contact, and did not show signs of irritability or distractibility. (R. 225). Also, her recall and orientation were intact and her insight and judgment were good. (R. 225). Based upon the examination, Plaintiff was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, recurrent; nicotine dependence; a partner relational problem; a history of substance abuse; and obesity. (R. 227). It was recommended that she start taking Celexa, an anti-depressant, and Buspar, an anxiolytic psychotropic drug. (R. 225). She was also advised to attend individual counseling. (R. 225).

Plaintiff was scheduled for a medication check on August 24, 2009, which she failed to attend. (R. 227). She also failed to respond to attempts to reach her. (R. 227). Accordingly, her case was closed for non-compliance. (R. 227).[1]

On August 25, 2010, Julie Uran, Ph.D., performed a consultative psychological evaluation of Plaintiff.[2] (R. 232-42). Dr. Uran noted that Plaintiff had a history of medical issues, including lumbar back pain, headaches, abdominal pain, and soreness/a lump on her left foot. (R. 232). Plaintiff admitted to a history of substance abuse, but reported that she stopped using drugs in 1998. (R. 233). She also reported a history of intense anger, which caused her to strike objects at times, and explained that she experienced hallucinatory voices or noises approximately once per month and suffered from mild-to-severe depression, manifested by crying and withdrawal, tiredness, and apathy. (R. 238). Furthermore, she told Dr. Uran that her anxiety was causing tremors and she felt that others were talking about her, watching her, or following her. (R. 238). Dr. Uran diagnosed Plaintiff with major depressive disorder with psychotic features, generalized anxiety disorder, and below average IQ (rule out), and assessed a GAF score of 55. (R. 235, 238).[3]

Dr. Uran opined that Plaintiff had no restrictions in understanding, remembering, and carrying out short, simple instructions; between "moderate" and "marked" restrictions understanding, remembering, and carrying out detailed instructions; and slight restrictions making judgments on simple, work-related decisions. (R. 238). Moreover, she opined that Plaintiff had "marked" restrictions in interacting with the public and responding appropriately to work pressures in a usual work setting, but moderate restrictions interacting appropriately with supervisors and co-workers and responding appropriately to changes in a routine work setting. (R. 239).

On September 9, 2010, Emanuel Schnepp, Ph.D., a state agency psychologist, reviewed Plaintiff's records and completed a Psychiatric Review Technique form, in which he opined that Plaintiff had moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning and maintaining concentration, persistence, and pace, and only mild restrictions in activities of daily living. (R. 243-61). He also completed a Mental RFC Assessment form, in which he found that Plaintiff was either not significantly limited or moderately limited in all areas except understanding, remembering, and carrying out detailed instructions and interacting appropriately with the general public. (R. 243-44). In those two areas, Dr. Schnepp found that Plaintiff had "marked" limitations. (R. 243-44).

Plaintiff had a psychiatric evaluation with Dr. Simmons and Mr. Love on June 27, 2011 because she was "trying to get SSI." (R. 284). She described mood-related symptoms, including depression, irritability, low energy, and decreased concentration and interest - for which she had never sought any treatment. (R. 284). She said that she used to like to read books, but could no longer sustain her concentration long enough to do so. (R. 284). She also described feeling excessively worried about financial stressors. (R. 284). Mr. Love noted that Plaintiff likely had sleep apnea and encouraged her to contact her primary care physician to schedule a sleep study. (R. 285). Based on his examination, he diagnosed her with panic disorder with agoraphobia and a history of drug abuse (in remission), and noted that she had been non-compliant with previous attempts to treat her condition. (R. 286). He also prescribed Buspar and Celexa and recommended that she attend individual counseling. (R. 285).

Plaintiff followed-up in late August for a medication check. (R. 283). At that time, she reported that she did not feel any better and was experiencing additional stress because her fiance had recently been sent to jail. (R. 283). Plaintiff agreed to try taking Cymbalta, an anti-depressant, and to continue taking Buspar. (R. 283). She also reported that she planned to undergo a sleep study, as recommended, after her children ...

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