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Langdon v. Colvin

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

September 17, 2014

SUSAN L. LANGDON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


David Stewart Cercone, United States District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff, Susan L. Langdon (“Langdon” or “Plaintiff”), commenced this action seeking review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, & 1381-1383f. Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB and SSI on July 14, 2009, alleging disability from August 12, 2008, due to chronic back pain and bipolar disorder. R. 219-227, 267. The applications were initially denied on November 30, 2009, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. R. 120, 147-149.

A hearing was held on November 18, 2011, before Administrative Law Judge, David H. Brash (the “ALJ”), and a Vocational Expert (“VE”). R. 41-87. Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and gave testimony. Id. The ALJ issued a written decision on December 6, 2011, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. R. 22-35. Plaintiff timely requested a review of the ALJ’s decision to the Appeals Council, which was denied on March 8, 2013, making the ALJ’s decision the final decision for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405. R. 1-4. Plaintiff subsequently filed his appeal with this Court.

The record was developed fully at the administrative level and the parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment will be denied, the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment will be granted and final judgment will be entered against Plaintiff and in favor of the Commissioner.

II. Statement of the Case

Plaintiff was 32 years of age on her alleged on-set date of disability. R. 35. She had a GED and attended Mercer County Vocational-Technical School for business management, which she completed in 1993. R. 48, 273. Plaintiff’s past relevant work experience included work as a waitress/cook and as a home attendant. R. 78-79, 268, 605. As a home attendant, Plaintiff cared for an elderly man with no legs. R. 72-73. Though Plaintiff alleged disability as of August of 2008, she continued to work as a home attendant for two (2) years until the elderly man died in 2010. R. 73. Plaintiff did not get paid as a home attendant, but instead received room and board. R. 73, 605.

In March of 2008, Plaintiff was treated for an alcohol overdose and statements of suicidality. R. 529-533. Plaintiff reported that she typically consumed twelve (12) to twenty-four (24) alcoholic drinks in a twenty-four (24) hour period. R. 530-531. In April of 2008, Plaintiff reported that she used crack cocaine daily, used methadone once a week, huffed whippets and snorted Soma. R. 348.

Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident in August of 2008, in which she sustained contusions of her shoulder and elbow, a cervical sprain and cephalgia (headache). R. 356, 358. Plaintiff followed-up treatment with her primary care physicians, and she was prescribed Naprosyn and Flexeril and physical therapy. R. 391, 395. Plaintiff was diagnosed with status post motor vehicle accident back pain with right-side radiculopathy by Curtis Jantzi, D.O. (“Dr. Jantzi”). R. 408-409.

In November 2008, Plaintiff was treated for an intentional drug overdose and underwent a drug test for phencyclidine (“PCP”). R. 551-553, 559, 565. Plaintiff tested positive for PCP and THC (marijuana). R. 563. Plaintiff again tested positive for THC in March of 2009. R. 522.

Plaintiff began treatment with James Liszewski, M.D. (“Dr. Liszewski”) in April of 2009, and he diagnosed her with chronic neck and back pain due to a chronic sprain. R. 698. In June of 2009, Plaintiff reported mood swings and feeling depressed and suicidal, and Dr. Liszewski referred her to Sharon Regional Hospital for mental health treatment. R. 695. In a follow-up examination, Dr. Liszewski noted that Plaintiff’s mental symptoms improved. R. 693. In September of 2009, Plaintiff passed out while driving ran off the road and suffered facial contusions. R. 915. Plaintiff’s drug screen was positive for benzodiazepine, THC and opiates. R. 915.

On June 16, 2009, Plaintiff was voluntarily admitted to the adult psychiatric unit of Sharon Regional Health System for increasing depression and anxiety, including suicidal and homicidal ideation toward an ex-boyfriend. R. 599-614. Plaintiff admitted to occasional alcohol use, but denied drug use. R 605. Plaintiff’s urine drug screen, however, was positive for cannabinoids. R. 605, 621. Plaintiff was discharged three (3) days later, at her request, with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, not otherwise specified (“NOS”), post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”); cannabis abuse; and personality disorder. R. 600.

On November 4, 2009, Robert P. Craig, Ph.D. (“Dr. Craig”), performed a consultative psychological evaluation of Plaintiff at the request of the State agency. R. 729-736. Dr. Craig observed that Plaintiff’s attention, concentration, motivation, and self-sufficiency were all good. R. 733. Plaintiff reported a history of anxiety and panic attacks, and claimed that she was “fairly clean” from drugs and alcohol. Id. Plaintiff reported that she was anxious around people because of her history of abuse and being worried about her safety. R. 734. Plaintiff further stated that she cooked and cleaned around the house, could handle money, that she could perform most daily living tasks, but she did not do much socially with others, and she had poor concentration, persistence, and pace. R. 735.

Dr. Craig diagnosed Plaintiff with PTSD, dysthymia, and alcohol abuse in partial or full remission. Id. In an attached functional assessment, Dr. Craig opined that Plaintiff’s ability to understand, remember, and carry out instructions, as well as her ability to respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and work pressures were all fair and not affected by her mental impairments. R. 729.

On November 25, 2009, Emanuel Schnepp, Ph.D. (“Dr. Schnepp”), a State agency psychological consultant concluded that none of Plaintiff’s mental impairments were disabling. R. 745-758. Dr. Schnepp opined that Plaintiff could make simple decisions and carry out short and simple instructions. R. 743. He also noted that although Plaintiff was socially isolated and had a history of panic attacks, she could maintain socially appropriate behavior, was self-sufficient, and could sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision. Id. Dr. Schnepp concluded that Plaintiff’s limitations did not preclude her from performing the basic mental demands of competitive work on a sustained basis. Id.

Martin Meyer, Ph.D. (“Dr. Meyer”), and Julie Uran, Ph.D. (“Dr. Uran”), performed a psychological evaluation of Plaintiff in May of 2010. R. 891-903. Plaintiff told the doctors that she was unable to work because of physical limitations involving standing and lifting, as well as lability in mood including displays of anger. R. 895. Drs. Meyer and Uran administered an IQ test on Plaintiff which resulted in a verbal IQ score of 77, a performance IQ score of 69, and a full-scale IQ score of 71. R. 893. They assessed Plaintiff as below-average intelligence. R. 895. They noted, however, that Plaintiff’s academic abilities exceeded expectations . R. 893.

Drs. Meyer and Uran opined that Plaintiff’s vocational potentials were at the skilled and semi-skilled levels. R. 895. They concluded, nevertheless, that Plaintiff could not function within a competitive job environment because of her overwhelming depression and poor coping skills, as well as her overall unstable functioning. Id. The doctors diagnosed Plaintiff with bipolar disorder by history, generalized anxiety ...

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