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RICHARDSON v. APFEL

April 13, 1999

BARBARA RICHARDSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KENNETH APFEL, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert L. Carter, District Judge.

OPINION

BACKGROUND

I. Procedural history

Richardson applied for SSI on November 3, 1993, alleging that she was disabled since August, 1988, due to a tumor, kidney pain, depression, and a possible liver problem. Her claim was denied on both the initial and reconsideration levels. Richardson appealed the reconsideration denial, requesting a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The hearing occurred on July 11, 1995. Richardson was represented by counsel and testified on her own behalf. There was no other testimony. On December 14, 1995, the ALJ ruled that Richardson was not disabled. Richardson then requested review of the ALJ's determination by the Appeals Council. On April 25, 1997, the Appeals Council denied Richardson's request for review, making the ALJ's decision final. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, 416.1481. Richardson brought this action on June 25, 1997. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). On July 6, 1998, Richardson moved for a judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c), F.R. Civ. P., requesting the reversal of the Commissioner's decision and a holding that Richardson is eligible for SSI; or, in the alternative, a remand for a new administrative hearing. On August 24, 1998, the Commissioner moved for a judgment on the pleadings, requesting that the court affirm his final determination.

II. Facts

Richardson is a 55 year old female. Richardson earned a General Equivalency Diploma in or about 1975. Her work history is sporadic and brief. For some time during 1966 and between 1968 and 1970, Richardson worked as a welfare caseworker; for less than three months in 1988, she worked as a clerical aid for a welfare center. Otherwise, she has been unemployed. Richardson states that her attempts at securing and maintaining regular employment were unsuccessful because of her "short attention spans," mental depression, and a fibroid condition. (Tr.*fn1 35, 37). Richardson left her job in 1988, for instance, due to "an episode coming home during rush hour on the train." (Tr. 34). During this episode, Richardson "starting screaming," "couldn't breathe," and "felt closed in." (Tr. 34). Richardson lived with her mother, up until the latter's death in October, 1994.

a. Medical evidence from treating sources

A "Questionnaire as to Residual Functional Capacity: Psychiatric Impairment", dated July 5, 1995 ("RFC Questionnaire") and completed by Dr. Camille and Rose Lederman, a Clinical Social Worker/Therapist ("CSW Lederman"), indicated that Richardson attended a group therapy weekly, had individual therapy sessions on a bi-weekly basis, and saw a psychiatrist once a month for medical evaluations. On the RFC Questionnaire, Dr. Camille stated that "[s]ince mother's death in Oct. 1994, [Richardson] has been increasingly depressed — not leaving house, unable to sleep thin night, eating maybe, 1 meal per/day. More anxious with how to go on with her life — feeling unfocused." (Tr. 126). Dr. Camille also diagnosed Richardson as having a "dysthymia disorder," a form of depression, and a "personality disorder." Dr. Camille reported a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") rating of 65. Based on Richardson's psychiatric status, Dr. Camille opined that Richardson had "moderate" limitations on her ability to understand, remember, and carry out instructions, respond appropriately to supervision and co-workers, respond to customary work pressure, satisfy an employer's normal quality, production, and attendance standards, and perform simple tasks in a full-time work setting. (Tr. 127, 129). The limitations on Richardson's ability to perform complex tasks in a work setting was assessed as "marked." (Tr. 129). The term "moderate" was defined as "[a]ffects but does not preclude ability to function." (Tr. 127). The term "marked" was defined as "[s]eriously affects ability to function." (Tr. 127). In addition, Dr. Camille noted that Richardson had been prescribed Zoloft, an anti-depressant, and that the medication had improved her ability to sleep and had helped her become less socially isolated. (Tr. 128).

In a letter dated September 17, 1996 ("September 17 letter"), which was presented as new evidence to the Appeals Council, Dr. Camille and CSW Lederman stated that Richardson had been a client at their clinic at the Fordham-Tremont Community Mental Health Center since March 7, 1995 (Tr. 164). Dr. Camille and CSW Lederman remarked that Richardson's "chronic depression persists, with anxiety and sleep difficulties, leading her to tend to be self-isolative." They further stated that Richardson, "though pleasant and cooperative, . . . is unable to manage the ongoing responsibilities that even a work training program would involve, let alone — a work situation." (Tr. 164). Furthermore, in the opinion of Dr. Camille and CSW Lederman, "it is not in the forseen [sic] future, that [Richardson] could comply with [the responsibilities of a work training program or a work situation]." (Tr. 164). Richardson's treatment goals revolved around "focusing on improved daily self-care," such as leaving her apartment a few times a week and eating on a regular basis. (Tr. 164). Dr. Camille and CSW Lederman concluded the letter by stating, "[Richardson] cannot take on the responsibility of a full-time job." (Tr. 164).

b. Medical evidence from consulting sources

On April 19, 1994, Dr. Luis Zeiguer ("Dr. Zeiguer") performed a psychiatric consultation of Richardson. Dr. Zeiguer noted that Richardson had a history of alcohol abuse starting at age 16, but was no longer drinking. (Tr. 132). Dr. Zeiguer's report also noted that Richardson told him that since 1988, she had experienced "shortness of breath, anxiety, accompanied at times by heart pounding and inner tremulousness." (Tr. 132). Richardson also stated that when she was surround by people, she had the "impression that she is the ugliest and smelliest person in the world," and that this intense impression made her uncomfortable. (Tr. 132). Dr. Zeiguer's impression of her mental status included the following comments: she was "clean," established "good eye contact," was "engaged, cooperative," her answers were "prompt and to the point," she was "logical and goal oriented," and that she was not describing "suicidal plans." (Tr. 132). Dr. Zeiguer reported that Richardson's. mood was "mildly depressed" and that her mood "remained stable" during the interview. (Tr. 133). He also noted that Richardson arrived at the interview alone by bus, that she took care of all the household chores for her and her mother, that she liked to read and watch TV, and that she had problems sleeping and socializing with others. (Tr. 133). Dr. Zeiguer's overall impression of the information gathered in his interview was that Richardson "should be able to perform at least simple, repetitive chores; relate to peers and/or supervisors; [and] perform tasks without disrupting the work setting." (Tr. 134). However, he also opined that, "[p]resently she may have difficulty performing competitively due to her ideas of reference which accompanied her panic attacks." (Tr. 134).

On April 28, 1994, Dr. Wei Kao ("Dr. Kao") performed a consultative physical examination of Richardson. Dr. Kao reported that Richardson described atypical, sharp chest pains that occurred six to seven times a week. (Tr. 135). However, Dr. Kao's examination of Richardson's heart, abdomen, extremities, chest, muscle strength, neurological and respiratory systems was unremarkable. (Tr. 136-37). With regard to her physical ...


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