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Cowley v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Columbia Division

March 26, 2015

SARAH LOUISE COWLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

WILLIAM J. HAYNES, Jr., Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff, Sarah Louise Cowley, filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) against the Defendant Carolyn Colvin, acting Commissioner of Social Security, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of her application for supplemental security income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act. On June 25, 2010, Plaintiff filed a claim for SSI alleging an onset date of December 31, 2008, which was later amended to June 25, 2010. Plaintiff cited bipolar disorder and a learning disability as the basis of her claim. After a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denied Plaintiff's claims.

In sum, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's claim for SSI benefits using the sequential evaluation process set forth at 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. (Docket Entry No. 10, Administrative Record at 14-15). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since her amended alleged onset date. Id. at 15. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: mood disorder and anxiety disorder, not otherwise specified, with a history of post-traumatic stress disorder. Id. at 15-16. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not prove an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. at 16. The ALJ did not find that Plaintiff had any exertional limitations, but did apply the following nonexertional limitations:

The claimant can understand and remember a simple and limited range of detailed (one to three step) tasks and instructions; sustain adequate persistence and pace for above tasks for two-hour segments across a normal workday and work week; adapt and respond to changes in a routine work setting given reasonable support and structure; and make/set simple work-related plans and goals independently but may have difficulty with more complex decision-making. The claimant can interact and get along adequately with general public, co-workers and supervisors for purposes of task completion. However, she appears better suited for thing-versus-people-oriented type work in non-public, object-focused job setting. Additionally, interactions with others in the workplace should be occasional, brief, task-focused and incidental to task completion.

Id. at 18. The ALJ also consulted with a vocational expert, and found that Plaintiff could not return to her past relevant work, but that Plaintiff did have the capacity to perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the economy. Id. at 22-23. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act and was not entitled to disability benefits. Plaintiff requested review on July 10, 2012, and the request was denied on September 27, 2013. Id. at 6-9, 1-3.

Before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the administrative record (Docket Entry No. 12) to which the Commissioner filed a response (Docket Entry No. 15) and Plaintiff filed a reply (Docket Entry No. 18). After review of the parties' motion papers and the administrative record, the Court concludes that Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the record should be denied.

A. Review of the Record

The Administrative Record reflects that Plaintiff is a 31 year old woman, with an 11th-grade education. (Docket Entry No. 10, Administrative Record at 22). Plaintiff's most recent work history was as a packager at a pencil factory, where she worked for eight months in 2006. Id. at 137. Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of December 31, 2008 originally, which was later amended to June 25, 2010. Id. at 132. Plaintiff filed an SSI claim on June 25, 2010, and it was denied on January 1, 2011. Plaintiff applied for reconsideration on March 23, 2011, and requested a hearing on April 14, 2011. After a hearing, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not disabled on April 17, 2012. Plaintiff requested review on July 10, 2012, and was denied on September 27, 2013.

The administrative record contains several reports predating the alleged onset date of disability. From October 26, 2006 to October 31, 2006, Plaintiff was admitted to the Tennessee Christian Medical Center. Id. at 214-221. She was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, polysubstance abuse, and personality disorder. Id. at 214. Plaintiff was noted to have had suicide attempts and a history of sexual abuse. Id. Plaintiff was "alert, well oriented, " her "thought processes were linear and goal directed, " and she had "no hallucinations or delusions." Id. at 220. Plaintiff's "concentration was mildly impaired, " her "memory for recent and remote events was good, " "insight was partial, " and "judgment showed recent impairment." Id. Plaintiff was detoxed and discharged to the Mental Health Cooperative for medication management and the Hope Program for alcohol and drug treatment. Id. at 215.

From June 16, 2009 to June 19, 2009, Plaintiff was admitted to the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute. Id. at 222-239. On admission, Plaintiff's report stated that she "attempt[ed] suicide by stabbing herself with a needle. Patient also threatened to cut her boyfriend's head off and to kill her mother and stepfather who live in [Michigan]." Id. at 239. The staff noted that Plaintiff had been "previously [inpatient] at TCMC last year for depression. Stopped meds and outpatient treatment." Id. at 230. After admission, Plaintiff denied suicidal or homicidal ideation and was not observed to have self-injurious or physically aggressive behavior. Id. A report written before discharge diagnosed her with Bipolar I Disorder, most recent episode depressed, without psychotic features, and Rule Out Borderline Personality Disorder. Id. at 237. On her last day, Plaintiff "request[ed] discharge with boyfriend, [saying] I feel much better.'" Id. at 226. Her Axis I Clinical Disorder diagnosis upon discharge was major depressive disorder, recurrent, severe without psychotic features. Id. at 222. Plaintiff also has medical records from Centerstone on the same dates. Id. at 243-247.

Following Plaintiff's evaluation at Centerstone, she was prescribed ongoing individual therapy. Id. at 247. Plaintiff had a follow up appointment on June 24, 2009, during which she "denied any [suicidal ideation/homicidal ideation] or psychosis, but stated she is still depressed and having anxiety and some adgitation (sic)." Id. at 249. Plaintiff had another follow up appointment on July 7, 2009 and "denie[d] hopelessness and denie[d] any [suicidal ideation] and [homicidal ideation] ideas or plans, " "denie[d] any psychosis, " and "ha[d] no flashback of sex abuse and also denie[d] for nightmares." Id. at 258. On August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 12, 2009, September 10, 2009, September 22, 2009, and October 20, 2009, Plaintiff missed or cancelled her follow up appointments at Centerstone. Id. at 248, 251, 252, 253, 255, 256, 257. On January 22, 2010, Centerstone officially terminated treatment, noting that Plaintiff had not been seen since July 7, 2009. Id. at 272-73.

Plaintiff filed an SSA claim on June 25, 2010. On October 20, 2010, Plaintiff was "referred for psychological assessment by Tennessee Disability Determination Services" to Dr. Mark Petro. Id. at 275-277. "When [Plaintiff] was asked who constituted her childhood family, she stated she did not know, began crying, left the office, slamming the door, ranting in the hallway. She was in the ladies' room with this examiner able to hear her through the open doors and she was becoming increasingly agitated. This examiner told the claimant that the examination was over and that she could go." Id. at 276. Because of this incident, "the examiner did not develop a working diagnostic hypothesis for the claimant." Id. at 277. On December 17, 2010, Plaintiff was again examined by Dr. Petro. Id. at 279-83. On this visit, Dr. Petro was able to diagnose Plaintiff with anxiety disorder and depressive disorder. Id.

On January 18, 2011, state psychological reviewer Dr. Robert Paul evaluated Plaintiff's medical records. Id. at 285. The "medically determinable impairments" that Dr. Paul noted include "[Mood Disorder, not otherwise specified (rule out Major Depressive Disorder vs Bipolar Disorder)]" and "[Anxiety Disorder not otherwise specified, history of PTSD]." Id. at 288, 290. Under "Personality Disorders, " Dr. Paul checked "[i]nflexible and maladaptive personality traits which cause either significant impairment in social or occupational functioning or subjective distress, as evidenced by at least one of the following:" then checked "[p]ersistent disturbances of mood or affect" and "[i]ntense and unstable interpersonal relationships and impulsive and damaging behavior, " then wrote in, "[Personality Disorder not otherwise specified]." Id. at 292. Dr. Paul marked "moderate" limitations in Plaintiff's "restriction of activities of daily living, " "difficulties in maintaining social functioning" and "difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace." Id. at 295. In his comments, Dr. Paul wrote, "[a]lleged [symptoms] and limitations are partially credible. While identified mental impairments could reasonably be expected to produce the reported [symptoms], [claimant's] report with regard to intensity, persistence, and/or degree of limitation is not supported by objective evidence." Id. at 297. On January 26, 2011, Plaintiff's claim was denied.

Plaintiff applied for reconsideration on March 23, 2011. That same day, Dr. Mason Currey, Ph.D. conducted a file review of Plaintiff's medical records. Id. at 303. Dr. Currey wrote, "Recon Report: I have reviewed all the evidence in file including the newly ...


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