United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
ALETHEA L. MILLER HALL, Plaintiff
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant
William J. Nealon United States District Judge.
October 7, 2015, Plaintiff, Alethea L. Miller Hall, filed
this instant appeal under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review
of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) denying her application
for supplemental security income
(“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381, et seq. (Doc. 1). The
parties have fully briefed the appeal. For the reasons set
forth below, the decision of the Commissioner denying
Plaintiff's application for SSI will be vacated.
protectively filed her application SSI on April 30, 2010,
alleging disability beginning on April 30, 2010, due to a
combination of “Panic Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, and
Depression Disorder.” (Tr. 73, 136). This claim was
initially denied by the Bureau of Disability Determination
(“BDD”) on September 24, 2010, and Plaintiff filed
a request for an oral hearing on September 30, 2010. (Tr.
93-105). On October 31, 2011, an oral hearing was held before
administrative law judge Edward Brady, (“ALJ”).
(Tr. 46-72). On November 21, 2011, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision, finding Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr.
75-90). On January 18, 2012, Plaintiff filed a request for
review with the Appeals Council. (Tr. 427-433). On November
2, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's appeal
and upheld the ALJ's decision. Plaintiff filed an initial
appeal with the United States District Court for the Middle
District of Pennsylvania, and, on May 2, 2014, the appeal was
granted and the case was remanded to the Commissioner for
further proceedings. (Tr. 434-452). On April 7, 2015, a
remand hearing was conducted before the ALJ, and Plaintiff
and impartial vocational expert, Connie Abraham,
(“VE”), testified. (Tr. 398-422). The ALJ issued
a second decision denying Plaintiff's SSI claims on June
16, 2015. (Tr. 359-374). This decision became final when the
Appeals Council failed to act within sixty (60) days. (Tr.
filed the instant complaint on October 7, 2015. (Doc. 1). On
December 22, 2015, Defendant filed an answer and transcript
from the SSA proceedings. (Docs. 9 and 10). Plaintiff filed a
brief in support of her complaint on June 5, 2016. (Doc. 14).
Defendant filed a brief in opposition on July 5, 2016. (Doc.
16). Plaintiff filed a reply brief on July 20, 2016. (Tr.
was born in the United States on May 28, 1986, and at all
times relevant to this matter was considered a “younger
individual.” (Tr. 133). Plaintiff graduated from high
school in 2005, and can communicate in English. (Tr. 135,
137). Her employment records indicate that she previously
worked as at several restaurants and retail stores. (Tr.
document entitled “Function Report - Adult” filed
with the SSA, Plaintiff indicated that she lived in a house
with her family. (Tr. 531). From the time she woke up to the
time she went to bed, Plaintiff dressed and fed her children
and took them to school, cleaned and prepared dinner, picked
up her children from school, ate dinner, played with her
kids, relaxed, and then went to bed. (Tr. 532). Her husband
would help her with these tasks on days when she had “a
hard time going places.” (Tr. 532). She had no problem
with personal care tasks such as dressing and bathing, and
was able to prepare meals, clean, do the laundry, and shop in
stores about twice a month. (Tr. 532-534). She was able to
drive a car, but not unaccompanied due to the fear of having
a panic attack alone. (Tr. 534). When asked to check items
which her “illnesses, injuries, or conditions affect,
” Plaintiff did not check lifting, squatting,
bending, reaching, walking, kneeling, talking, hearing, stair
climbing, seeing, following instructions, or using hands.
(Tr. 536). She explained that she could not stand for too
long because it would cause her “to feel
panicky.” (Tr. 536).
concentration and memory, Plaintiff did not need special
reminders to take care of her personal needs or to go places,
but did need a reminder to take her medicine. (Tr. 533, 535).
She could pay bills, handle a savings account, use a
checkbook, and count change. (Tr. 534). She could pay
attention for a few minutes, followed written and spoken
instructions well, was not able to finish what she started,
and did not hand stress or changes in routine well. (Tr.
Plaintiff tried to “go out once a day, ” visited
her mom and dad once a week, and did not go anywhere on a
regular basis. (Tr. 534-535). She watched television,
listened to music, and played with her children daily. (Tr.
535). She stated that she became annoyed quickly with others.
remand hearing on April 7, 2015, Plaintiff testified that she
was prescribed and had been taking Lexapro for her mental
health impairments, including panic and anxiety. (Tr. 406).
She testified that she experienced a fear of going places,
which is medically termed ‘agoraphobia, ' because
she was afraid she would have a panic attack in public. (Tr.
407). She stated that she was only able to go places when
accompanied by her husband due to fear of panic attacks. (Tr.
411). She also stated that she experienced a form of
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that caused her to perform
ritual checking. (Tr. 407). She testified that up until a
month before her hearing, she did not have health insurance,
and she took only natural supplements to treat her anxiety
and panic. (Tr. 412). She noted that she was able to take
care of her four (4) young children because she had help when
she needed it, but that she did not feel she could respond to
needs of those in the “outside world” because
there was a lack of help and comfortableness. (Tr. 413). She
stated her “comfort zones” included her house,
her parents' home, church, and her children's school.
(Tr. 414). She described experiencing short-lasting panic
attacks that lasted up to one (1) hour, which she stated she
would have a few times a week on average, and longer lasting
ones that would last up to one (1) month with a feeling of
constant dread, with her last one occurring in the summer
before the remand hearing. (Tr. 415).
August 2, 2010, Plaintiff underwent a consultative
examination performed by Stephen Timchack, Ph.D. (Tr. 253).
It was noted that she was anxious, fidgety, cooperative,
polite, well-groomed, and respectful. (Tr. 256).
Plaintiff's self-reported symptoms included feeling
sweaty, faint, and dizzy, having a rapid heart rate, feeling
a chronic sense of doom and fear, and having an excessive
fear of the community and large crowds of people. (Tr. 259).
Her mental status examination revealed she had: fleeting eye
contact; impoverished recent and remote memory; a highly
anxious mood with affect congruent to mood; quick-paced
speech consistent to that of an individual with significant
anxiety; a logical and goal-directed thought process; intact
sustained attention and concentration; marginally developed
insight and judgment for her age; and a low average IQ range.
(Tr. 256-258). Her diagnoses included Panic Disorder with
Agoraphobia, Cluster B Personality Traits, Orthostatic
Hypertension, Tachycardia, and suspicion of Hyperthyroidism.
(Tr. 259). Dr. Timchack opined that Plaintiff had a guarded
prognosis that would be more favorable if she participated in
intensive outpatient psychotherapy and medication management.
August 6, 2010, Dr. Timchack completed a Questionnaire, and
opined that Plaintiff had: slight restrictions in her ability
to understand, remember and carry out short, simple
instructions; moderate restrictions in her ability to
understand, remember, and carry out detailed instructions;
marked restrictions in her ability to make judgments on
simple work-related decisions; moderate restrictions in her
abilities to interact appropriately with the public,
supervisors, and co-workers; and moderate restrictions in her
ability to respond appropriately to work pressures in a usual
work setting and to changes in a routine work setting. (Tr.
August 12, 2010, Joseph Barrett, Ph.D., completed a
Psychiatric Review Technique and a Mental Residual Functional
Capacity form. (Tr. 261). In the Psychiatric Review
Technique, Dr. Barrett opined that Plaintiff had mild
restriction in activities of daily living; moderate
difficulties in maintaining social functioning and
concentration, persistence, or pace; and one (1) to two (2)
repeated episodes of decompensation. (Tr. 271). He stated
that Plaintiff's exam was within normal limits aside from
some “recent memory problems.” (Tr. 273). In the
Mental RFC form, Dr. Barrett opined that Plaintiff was
moderately limited in her ability to carry out very short and
simple instructions; to work in coordination with or
proximity to others without being distracted by them; to
interact appropriately with the general public; to accept
instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from
supervisors; and to respond appropriately to changes in the
work setting. (Tr. 273-275).
September 8, 2010, Plaintiff had an appointment with Adnan
Saba, M.D. (Tr. 277-279). It was noted that Plaintiff
experienced panic attacks up to three (3) times a week, with
some lasting all month, that she felt she got angry easily,
that she always felt hot, that she could not stand for a long
time because it caused her to feel lightheaded and weak, and
that, during a panic attack, her heart would race and she
would be short of breath. (Tr. 277). An examination revealed
Plaintiff: was anxious-looking; was alert and oriented in all
three (3) spheres; had fluent speech; was able to lift and
carry up to twenty (20) pounds occasionally; was able to
stand and walk for less than one (1) hour; was unlimited in
pushing and pulling; could engage in postural activities; and
should avoid extreme temperatures, poor ventilation,
humidity, fumes, odors, and gases. (Tr. 278-279). Dr.
Saba's impression was that Plaintiff had panic attacks
with agoraphobia and possible hyperthyroidism. (Tr. 279).
September 16, 2010, Plaintiff underwent an Intake Evaluation
at Valley Counseling Associates. (Tr. 281). Plaintiff's
self-reported symptoms included trouble sleeping, memory
problems, low self-esteem, trouble concentrating and making
decisions, irritability, anxiety, nervousness, panic attacks,
mood swings, anger problems, and phobias. (Tr. 284). Her
mental status examination revealed she was cooperative,
anxious, had an appropriate affect, had coherent speech and a
relevant thought process, had intact orientation and memory,
had intact concentration and judgment, had intact insight,
and had sufficient self-control. (Tr. 286). Her Axis I
diagnosis was Anxiety Disorder, Axis II diagnosis was
Borderline Personality traits, and her Axis III diagnosis was
hyperthyroidism. (Tr. 286).
September 23, 2010, Theodore Waldron completed a Physical RFC
form. (Tr. 288). He opined Plaintiff could: occasionally lift
and/ or carry up to twenty (20) pounds and frequently up to
ten (10) pounds; sit, stand and/ or walk for about six (6)
hours in an eight (8) hour workday; was unlimited in pushing
and pulling within the aforementioned weight restrictions;
could frequently bend, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; could
occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never ladders; and
should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme temperatures,
wetness, humidity, noise, vibration, fumes, odors, dusts,
gases, poor ventilation, and hazards. (Tr. 288-290).
October 6, 2010, Plaintiff underwent a consultative
examination by Lenora Herrmann Finn, Ph.D. (Tr. 299). It was
noted that Plaintiff was ruminative, socially withdrawn,
passively dependent, anxious in all modalities, irritable,
and had poor judgment. (Tr. 299). Her ...