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Wood-Monroe v. Astrue

September 16, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Norman A. Mordue, Chief U.S. District Judge



Plaintiff Tonya A. Wood-Monroe brings the above-captioned action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Social Security Act, seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security's decision to deny her application for supplemental security income ("SSI"). Presently before the Court are the parties' motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.


Plaintiff was 40 years old at the time of the administrative hearing on June 1, 2005. (Administrative Transcript ("T.") at p. 49, 307).*fn2 She completed the ninth grade. (T. 312). Plaintiff claims that she has not engaged in substantial gainful activity during any time period relevant to this proceeding. (Pl.'s Br. at 1, 6-9; see T. 52, 57-58, 314). The Commissioner maintains that Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a kitchen helper, retail store cashier, day care worker, school lunch monitor, and commercial cleaner. (Def.'s Br. at 19). Plaintiff alleges disability due to Type II Bipolar Disorder; foot, ankle, and back injuries; and chronic migraines.

A. Plaintiff's Medical Treatment

1. Treating Physicians

Plaintiff treated for her physical complaints at the Samaritan Family Health Center; her primary treating physician there was Dr. Ernesto Diaz. (T. 115-37, 253-63). Records cover the time period from November of 2001 through February of 2005. Id. In November 2001 and January 2002, Plaintiff complained of pain in the right ear due to an ear infection. Id. at 115-16.

She was treated for this infection; her physical examinations were otherwise normal. Id. On August 1, 2002, Plaintiff came into the office complaining of right foot pain. Id. at 118. On examination, her foot appeared slightly swollen but Plaintiff was able to walk on the foot with no extreme pain. Id.

Dr. Diaz performed an annual physical examination on Plaintiff on September 9, 2002. Id. at 119. Plaintiff appeared alert, oriented, and in no acute distress. Id. Her physical examination was unremarkable; Plaintiff demonstrated full strength of the upper and lower extremities as well as normal gait. Id. On January 10, 2003, Plaintiff complained of a headache two days earlier with tingling and numbness in her right arm and the right side of her face, which had resolved spontaneously. Id. at 120. Plaintiff reported that she had experienced migraines approximately twice per week since childhood. Id. She took Excedrin to resolve her headaches. Id. Upon physical examination, Plaintiff appeared obese, alert, in no apparent distress, pleasant, and cooperative. Id. She had free range of motion in all extremities, full strength, an intact gait, and normal neurological examination. Id. A week later, Plaintiff's physical examination was once again unremarkable, except that some mild cerumen was noted in the left ear. Id. at 122. In March of 2004, Plaintiff reported lumbar pain due to a fall in December of 2003. Id. at 124. Skelaxin was prescribed for pain, and Plaintiff reported that it helped with her discomfort. Id. at 124-25.

On April 26, 2004, Plaintiff's physical examination was essentially unremarkable. Id. at 126. On May 13, 2004, Dr. Diaz placed Plaintiff on temporary disability of 20 hours per week of work, or four hours per day. Id. at 127. He stated that she would "have some limitations on lifting, carrying, pushing, walking, climbing, standing, or bending," with "[n]o limitation with sitting or bus traveling." Id. These restrictions were due to Plaintiff's reported lower back pain. Id. On physical examination, Dr. Diaz noted that Plaintiff had full ranges of motion and was alert, oriented, and in no acute distress. Id.

On June 9, 2004, Plaintiff underwent a routine physical examination, which was normal except for some air fluid levels and wax buildup in the left ear. Id. at 128. Plaintiff reported that her migraines were "very minimal," and she voiced no concenerns, chest pains, or shortness of breath. Id. Nurse Sharen Yaworski noted that Plaintiff "[was] on a limited 20 hours of work a week with Social Services and she [was] not complaining of any back pain today." Id. Physical examinations during the period from October 2004 through February of 2005 remained normal. Id. at 254-57. An X-ray of the lumbar spine taken March 11, 2004 revealed no significant findings. Id. at 129. A CT Scan of the head was normal. Id. at 130.

Plaintiff was also treated at Mercy Center for Behavioral Health for depression. Id. at 138-202, 237-52. Plaintiff was diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder and depression by Dr. Michael Camillo. Id. at 153. Plaintiff complained of a depressed mood and stated that she slept two to four hours per night. Id. Throughout her counseling with social workers Lisa Chapman and Doreen Perry, Plaintiff was described as having a neat and clean appearance and expressive speech. See id. at 154-202. Plaintiff consistently reported being depressed and frustrated. Id. In November of 2002 she was fired from her job for serving alcohol to a minor and stated that she felt angry, embarrassed, and sad about this. Id. at 156. Plaintiff planned and attended her daughter's wedding in the fall of 2002. Id. at 156-57.

Dr. Camillo filled out a mental assessment of ability to do work-related activities on June 3, 2005. Id. at 303-06. He assessed Plaintiff as having a fair ability to deal with the public, use judgment, and maintain attention and concentration; a good ability to function independently; and an unknown but estimated poor ability to follow work rules, relate to co-workers, interact with supervisors, and deal with work stress. Id. at 303. He stated that Plaintiff had "a history of getting fired and quitting jobs, e.g. fired from a gas station/convenience store for selling alcohol to a minor . . . [s]he quit the last job she had through DSS as a kitchen worker because she could not bear interacting with . . . most of her co-workers." Id. at 303-04. According to Dr. Camillo, the "end result" of Tonya's "fear[] that nobody like[d] her at [work]" was that she "walk[ed] off the job site or she [was] fired." Id. at 304.

2. Consultative Physicians

Dr. Kalyani Ganesh performed an orthopedic consultation on September 28, 2004. Id. at 209-12. Plaintiff's medications were recorded as: Skelaxin, Sudafed, Nasacort nasal spray, Wellbutrin, and Zoloft. Id. at 209. Plaintiff reported that she was able to cook and clean daily, do laundry three times per week, and shopping once per week. Id. at 210. She also cared for her daughter daily, bathed and dressed herself, watched television, listened to radio, read, and went out to appointments. Id. She exhibited a normal gait and station and needed no help getting on and off the examination table; hand and finger dexterity were intact with 5/5 grip strength; full flexion of the cervical spine; full ranges of motion of the upper and lower extremities as well as full strength; and full flexion but limited extension of the lumbar spine. Id. She had no sacrioiliac joint tenderness or sciatic notch tenderness, no spasm, scoliosis or kyphosis, and a negative straight leg raising ("SLR") test. Id. Dr. Ganesh opined that Plaintiff had "[n]o limitation . . . [in] sitting, standing, walking, or use of upper extremities." Id.

Plaintiff underwent a consultative psychiatric examination by Jeanne Shapiro, Ph.D. on September 28, 2004. Id. at 213-17. Plaintiff was cooperative and appropriate upon mental status examination. Id. at 215. Her speech was fluent and expressiveness was adequate; thought processes were coherent and goal-directed; mood was irritable; she was oriented to time, place, and person; attention and concentration were intact with an ability to do serial 3's; recent and remote memory were intact; cognitive functioning was assessed in the low average range; and judgment and insight were fair. Id. at 215-16. Plaintiff stated that she was depressed because her cousin had passed away recently. Id. at 213. Plaintiff reported that she was able to dress, bath, and groom herself some of the time, cook and prepare food, do general cleaning, laundry, shopping if she was driven, carry the groceries, manage money, and take public transportation.

Id. at 216. Dr. Shapiro opined that Plaintiff appeared capable of understanding and following simple instructions; maintaining attention and concentration and regularly attending to a schedule; making appropriate decisions and learning new tasks; interacting and relating appropriately with others; and dealing with a moderate amount of stress. Id. Dr. Shapiro gave Plaintiff a good prognosis. Id. at 217.

A psychiatric review technique form, completed by a state agency physician, found that Plaintiff had mild restrictions of activities of daily living; moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning; moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; and insufficient evidence of episodes of decompensation. Id. at 229. A Mental RFC assessment was completed by Thomas Harding, Ph.D. on November 11, 2004. Id. at 233-36. This assessment found that Plaintiff was moderately limited in maintaining attention and concentration for extended periods, interacting appropriately with the general public, accepting instructions and responding appropriately to criticism, responding appropriately to changes in a work setting, and setting realistic plans or making plans independently of others. Id. at 233-4. Plaintiff was found not significantly limited in any other areas of mental functioning. Id.


Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on June 2, 2004. (T. 49). The application was denied on November 15, 2004. (T. 25). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on June 1, 2005. (T. 307). On January 28, 2005, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Alfred R. Tyminski issued a decision denying plaintiff's claim for disability benefits. (T. 16-24). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on ...

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