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Pendergast v. Colvin

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

September 19, 2014

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



I. Introduction

Plaintiff, Jessica Pendergast (“Plaintiff” or “Pendergast”) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, Carolyn Colvin (“Commissioner” or “Colvin”) denying her application 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 on June 21, 2010, and she filed an application for SSI on June 23, 2010, alleging disability beginning June 1, 2007. R. 11, 162-169, 263. The application was initially denied on October 19, 2010, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing on December 10, 2010. R. 11, 71-81, 85-86.

A hearing was held on October 6, 2011, before Administrative Law Judge Joanna Papazekos (the “ALJ”), and a Vocational Expert (“VE”). R. 26-68. Plaintiff, who was represented by a non-attorney representative[1], appeared and gave testimony. Id. The ALJ issued a written decision on November 14, 2011, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act because she could perform a full range of work at all exertional levels with certain nonexertional limitation. R. 17. Plaintiff timely requested a review of the ALJ’s decision to the Appeals Council, which was denied on May 9, 2013, making the ALJ’s decision the final decision for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). R. 1-5. 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 born on June 16, 1990, making her 21 years of age on the date of the hearing. R. 31. Plaintiff, a special education student, completed tenth grade. R. 33. She reported past work at a number of fast food jobs, which she did well when she adhered to her prescribed psychiatric medications. R. 465.

Plaintiff treated with a psychiatrist, Paige Forrest, M.D. (“Dr. Forrest”) from April 2010 to July 2010. R. 398-422. In April of 2010, Dr. Forrest assessed Plaintiff with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”) and mood disorder not otherwise specified (“NOS”). R. 408. Dr. Forrest also noted that Plaintiff did not meet the criteria for major depressive disorder (“MDD”) or bipolar disorder. Id. During a mental status examination in June of 2010, Plaintiff reported that she wanted to resume taking Depakote, stating that she felt better when she was taking Depakote and Seroquel. R. 403. Plaintiff also indicated that she did not contact a therapist because she did not want to attend therapy; she just wanted her “meds”. Id. Dr. Forrest further noted that Plaintiff: (1) was cooperative but irritable; (2) had good grooming; (3) made fair eye contact; (4) had normal speech; (5) had no suicidal or homicidal ideation; and (6) had no delusions. R. 404. Plaintiff’s cognitive function was grossly intact, her insight poor, and her judgment fair. Id. Dr. Forrest diagnosed Plaintiff with mood disorder, NOS, and again stressed the importance of therapy. Id.

On June 30, 2011, Plaintiff sought treatment for depression with Family Psychological Associates (“FPA”). R. 516-526. Her initial mental status examination revealed: depressed mood; coherent thoughts; no suicidal or homicidal ideation; impaired memory, concentration, impulse control and judgment; and poor insight. R. 524. The clinical director diagnosed Plaintiff with major depressive disorder, recurrent, moderate, and assigned a global assessment of functioning (”GAF”) score of fifty (50)[2]. R. 524-525. Plaintiff was hospitalized briefly for inpatient psychiatric treatment with Alle-Kiski Medical Center. R. 506-509.

In August 2011, Kenneth Goetz, M.D. (“Dr. Goetz”) conducted a follow-up mental status examination at FPA which revealed that Plaintiff was pleasant, cooperative, anxious, and tearful. R. 515. Her speech was normal, eye contact good, but her mood was depressed and her affect blunted. Id. Dr. Goetz noted that Plaintiff had vague suicidal ideation, without plan, was non-psychotic, and grossly, cognitively intact. Id. Dr. Goetz diagnosed Plaintiff with major depression, recurrent and post-traumatic stress disorder, assigning a GAF score of 31[3]. Id. Later that same month, Dr. Goetz assessed Plaintiff with a depressed mood, but normal affect, speech, orientation, memory, and attention and concentration. R. 512. Dr. Goetz also noted that Plaintiff had good judgment and insight, and no suicidal ideation. Id.

In September of 2011, Dr. Goetz completed a mental residual functional capacity questionnaire, in which he opined that Plaintiff had severe restrictions in work-related abilities. R. 534-535. He also opined that Plaintiff would be absent from work more than four (4) days per month. R. 535.

Dante E. Mancini, Ph.D. conducted a psychological consultative examination, and completed a functional assessment of Plaintiff in September of 2010. R. 463-471. Dr. Mancini diagnosed Plaintiff with bipolar disorder, moderate; polysubstance dependence; antisocial personality disorder; and borderline personality disorder. R. 467. He assessed a current GAF of 50 with a highest score in the previous year of 65.[4] Dr. Mancini noted that Plaintiff reported using no psychotropic medications despite her reported history of improved functioning while adhering to such treatment. R. 467.

Dr. Mancini assessed no limitations in Plaintiff’s ability to understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions and slight restriction in doing so for detailed instructions. R. 470. Dr. Mancini found moderate limitations in work-related social interaction (but marked limitations in interacting with supervisors), and responding appropriately to work pressures and changes. Id.

Douglas Schiller, Ph.D. (“Dr. Schiller”), a State agency psychologist, assessed Plaintiff’s mental abilities based on a review of Plaintiff’s medical history, and whether she met a listed impairment. R. 475-490. Dr. Schiller opined that Plaintiff could meet the basic mental demands of competitive work on a sustained basis despite limitations resulting from her impairment R. 477. Dr. Schiller also completed a psychiatric review technique analysis, determining that Plaintiff’s mental impairments – bipolar disorder, personality disorder (borderline/antisocial) – did not meet a listed impairment. R. 478-489. For purposes of the Listings, Dr. Schiller ...

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