United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
LISA PUPO LENIHAN, Magistrate Judge.
Mary Matejevich ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"). 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1382f. Presently before the court are cross-motions for summary judgment. The record has been developed at the administrative level. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's motion will be denied, the Commissioner's motion will be granted, and final judgment will be entered in favor of the Commissioner and against plaintiff.
II. STATEMENT OF THE CASE
A. Procedural History
Plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits on March 20, 2011 alleging disability since December 24, 2010. R. 14. The application was denied on August 10, 2011. R. 98-102. A hearing was held before an ALJ on August 9, 2012. R. 31-85. Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. R. 35-75, 79-85. An impartial vocational expert, Mark Heckman, also testified. R. 75-79. The ALJ rendered a decision on September 13, 2012, denying plaintiff's application. R. 14-26. On March 11, 2014, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final ruling of the Commissioner. R. 1-6. This civil action followed.
B. General Background
Plaintiff was born on July 7, 1959, making her fifty-one years of age on her alleged on-set date of disability and fifty-three years of age at the time of the hearing. R. 35, 88. She is a high school graduate and attended a year of college. R. 36, 212. Plaintiff is single. R. 182.
Plaintiff lives with her brother, with whom she shares household chores. R. 41-42. Plaintiff dusts around the house, does half of the household cooking, cleans the kitchen, and folds and puts away laundry. Id. She is able to do some of her own grocery shopping, but usually brings someone with her due to dizziness from medication. Id. Plaintiff relies primarily on public transportation. R. 48-49, 65-66, 74-75.
Plaintiff has not worked since December 24, 2010, when her seasonal job ended and she felt that she could no longer work. R. 36-38, 211. In the past, she has worked as a retail sales person, canvasser, and news assistant. R. 38-40, 67-68, 212, 219.
Plaintiff alleged disability due to bipolar disorder, severe migraine headaches, lower back pain, and adrenal dysfunction. R. 88, 211. She testified to extensive side effects from prescribed medications, including blurred vision, dizziness, sharp pains in her head, and tremors in her hand. R. 42-45, 48, 52-54, 56-57, 63. Plaintiff enjoys reading and writing poetry, but has trouble concentrating and getting started. R. 46-47. She tries to see her friends at least once a week, even when she has a headache or is dizzy. R. 64-65.
C. Medical Evidence
1. Physician and Medical History
a. Records of Psychiatrist, Mark Miller, M.D.
Psychiatrist Mark Miller, M.D., treated plaintiff's depressive symptoms from 2004 until February 2012. R. 69-70, 371, 384. Dr. Miller originally diagnosed plaintiff with depression and prescribed antidepressant medication. R. 312, 371.
On May 11, 2007, Dr. Miller diagnosed plaintiff with bipolar II disorder after she demonstrated hypomanic symptoms. R. 312, 371. He prescribed the mood stabilizing medications Wellbutrin, Lexapro and Lamictal. Id.
Dr. Miller's May 2007 through June 2010 records reflect that plaintiff's mood was mostly stable with treatment. R. 280-313. She experienced episodic migraines, nightmares of past trauma, dizziness, and seasonal worsening of her bipolar disorder in the fall. R. 283, 303, 306, 309, 312.
Plaintiff actively searched for jobs during this period. She frequently reported her job searching activities to Dr. Miller and expressed frustration with her inability to obtain full-time employment. R. 280, 283, 286, 289, 292, 297, 300, 306, 309, 312. Plaintiff also volunteered at the library, practiced yoga, exercised by swimming and walking, wrote poetry, attended cultural events, and spent time with her friends. R. 280, 294, 297, 300, 303, 306, 309, 312.
On September 5, 2010, plaintiff reported feeling depressed over the past several months. R. 278. She also complained of a headache that lasted several days. Id.
On October 22, 2010, plaintiff presented with seasonal worsening of her bipolar disorder. R. 272. Dr. Miller prescribed light therapy, which had worked for plaintiff in the past, and increased her dosage of Wellbutrin. R. 272, 303.
On December 10, 2010, plaintiff reported improved mood. R. 269. She was excited about her seasonal position at a toy store, but continued to search for permanent employment. Id. Plaintiff indicated that she frequently forgot her second dose of Wellbutrin, but she did not want to switch to the long acting form at that time. Id.
On April 4, 2011, plaintiff reported that over the past two months she experienced increased depression, oversleeping, anxiety and migraines. R. 266. Dr. Miller noted that plaintiff appeared more depressed, but also had mood reactivity and was able to laugh. Id. He considered plaintiff's cognition to be intact and determined that her insight and judgment were fair. Id. Plaintiff denied suicidal thoughts. Id. She expressed doubt about being able to work part-time, but continued to apply for jobs. Id. Dr. Miller discontinued Celexa and added Abilify to plaintiff's medication regimen. Id.
On September 9, 2011, plaintiff presented with an improved mood, but complained of side effects, including dizziness, feeling off balance, and sharp pains in her head. R. 380. Dr. Miller lowered plaintiff's dose of Wellbutrin and prescribed Topamax. Id.
On October 14, 2011, plaintiff reported recent mood fluctuations and low mood, but she denied suicidal thoughts. R. 381. Dr. Miller added Abilify and discontinued Topamax due to side effects. Id.
On November 18, 2011, plaintiff returned to Dr. Miller and complained of increased dizziness. R. 382. Dr. Miller declined to modify plaintiff's dosage of Abilify, which he planned to increase once plaintiff could tolerate the dizziness. Id. Dr. Miller considered plaintiff's insight and judgment to be intact and she denied suicidal ideation. Id.
On December 30, 2011, plaintiff reported an improvement with her current medication regimen, but declined to increase her dose of Abilify due to stomach issues. R. 383.
On January 13, 2012, Dr. Miller corresponded with plaintiff's attorney. R. 371. He opined that plaintiff was disabled due to depression and adrenal dysfunction. Id. She had debilitating symptoms of low energy, lack of stamina, mood fluctuation and recollection of trauma. Id. Dr. Miller expected plaintiff's symptoms to last more than twelve months. Id.
On February 3, 2012, plaintiff informed Dr. Miller that she wanted to join a comprehensive program of peer support at Mercy Behavioral Health. R. 384. Dr. Miller assessed plaintiff as "somewhat stable" during this final session, but noted that she appeared on the verge of tears. Id. Dr. Miller discontinued Abilify due to over sedation. Id. He supported plaintiff's decision and prescribed enough medication for her to transition to the desired treatment program. Id.
b. Records of Psychotherapist, Diane Mazefsky, M.Ed.
On September 2, 2010, plaintiff had her first therapy session with psychotherapist Diane Mazefsky, M.Ed. R. 343. Ms. Mazefsky reviewed plaintiff's health history and created a plan for plaintiff to engage in self-care and eventually to begin "creative part-time work." Id. They had individual therapy sessions weekly or bi-weekly. Id.
On September 9, 2010, plaintiff reported that she felt okay, but also very tired despite increased sleep. R. 339. Ms. Mazefsky speculated that this was typical for plaintiff during autumn. Id. Plaintiff discussed her interests with enthusiasm and proclaimed that her self-esteem had improved in recent years. Id.
On September 30, 2010, plaintiff informed Ms. Mazefsky that she had been depressed for the past five or six days. R. 335. She indicated that her disorder became worse in the fall. Id. Plaintiff also discussed difficulties with her family. Id.
On October 13, 2010, plaintiff relayed that she had been depressed for the past few weeks. R. 333. Ms. Mazefsky noted that plaintiff was self-critical, had long-standing interpersonal issues and a history of shame. Id.
On October 28, 2010, plaintiff was feeling much better and enjoying spending time dancing and planning a party with her roommate. R. 331. Ms. Mazefsky advised plaintiff to focus on self-care and acceptance of her challenges with low energy and mood. Id.
On November 10, 2010, Ms. Mazefsky and plaintiff discussed self-perception and healthy boundaries. R. 330. Plaintiff stated that her family treated her negatively because of her illness, but she had a good support network of friends. Id.
On December 2, 2010, plaintiff reported improved mood and that she was enjoying dancing and going out with friends. R. 329. She was very satisfied with her new part-time job at a toy store. Id.
On December 15, 2010, plaintiff presented with improved mood and function. R. 328. Plaintiff liked her new job and was spending time with family and friends. Id.
On February 2, 2011, Ms. Mazefsky applauded plaintiff's ability to care for herself and cope with family-induced stress. R. 327. Plaintiff reported that she had finished her temporary job, but was interviewing for two permanent positions. Id. Ms. ...