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Scott v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

June 23, 2014

JANE LOUISE SCOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY Defendant.

DECISION AND ORDER

MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Jane Louise Scott ("Plaintiff" or "Scott"), brings this action under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") improperly denied her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI").

Currently before the Court are the parties' competing motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, I grant the Commissioner's motion, deny the Plaintiff's motion, and dismiss the Complaint.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On March 12, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI, alleging disability as of June 13, 2009, which was denied. Administrative Transcript [T.] 65-67, 171-181. A hearing was held on October 12, 2011 before administrative law judge ("ALJ") John P. Costello, at which Plaintiff, with a non-attorney representative, appeared and testified, as did a vocational expert ("VE"). T. 29-63. On October 26, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled from March 12, 2010 to October 26, 2011. T. 10-21.

On April 3, 2013, the Appeals Councils granted Plaintiff's request for review, and adopted the findings and conclusions of the ALJ, making the decision of the Appeals Council the final decision of the Commissioner. T. 4-17, 166-170. This action followed.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, who was age 45 at the time of the hearing, testified that she receives financial assistance from Social Services and lives with her two sons, ages 27 and 16. T. 32-33. Plaintiff testified she is unable to work because of various physical and mental health problems, but that her mental problem is worse. T. 34.

Medical Evidence Before March 12, 2010

Plaintiff received outpatient mental health treatment in 2008 and 2009 at St. Mary's Mental Health Outpatient Clinic ("St. Mary's"). T. 261-286. Treatment notes show that Plaintiff was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, cocaine dependence in full remission, alcohol dependence, and cannabis dependence in early remission. T. 262. She was prescribed various psychotropic medications from her primary care physician. T. 286.

In May 2009, psychologist Maryanne G. Hamilton, Ph.D. performed a mental consultative examination. T. 296-300. Dr. Hamilton diagnosed Plaintiff with bipolar disorder, panic disorder, cocaine dependence in early remission, cannabis abuse, and alcohol dependence in remission. T. 298-299. She noted that Plaintiff's cognitive functioning was average and assessed that Plaintiff could follow and understand simple directions, perform simple tasks independently, and maintain attention and concentration. T. 298.

Also in May 2009, Karl Eurenius, M.D. diagnosed Plaintiff with chronic low back pain with some neuropathic symptoms, bilateral knee pain, substance abuse, and diet-controlled diabetes mellitus. T. 304. According to Dr. Eurenius, Plaintiff was "moderately limited in walking more than [a] 1/4 of a mile, climbing more than 1 flight of stairs, bending, lifting more than ten pounds, carrying more than ten pounds, or kneeling due to a combination of chronic knee and back pain." T. 304.

In June 2009, State Agency psychologist M. Morog reviewed the evidence in the file and concluded that, "[w]hen the record is considered as a whole, the claimant merits a severe psychiatric diagnosis that causes mild to moderate impairment in adaptive and functional abilities." Dr. Morog predicted that with ongoing treatment, Plaintiff's symptoms would improve. T. 321. In June and July 2009, Plaintiff was seen at Unity Family Medicine at St. Mary's, complaining of high blood pressure in June and nasal and chest congestion in July. No significant findings were made at either visit. T. 440-445.

From October 2009 to February 2010, Plaintiff was seen at Westside Health Services for, among other things, leg and back pain. In October, she was diagnosed with hypertension, anxiety and myalgia. T. 358-359. In November, she was diagnosed with hypertension, peripheral neuropathy, tinea corporis, and insomnia. T. 361-362. In February 2010, Plaintiff complained of continued back pain and a possible kidney infection. T. 348-349. Upon examination, Plaintiff was diagnosed with low back pain and was given pain medication. T. 348-349.

Medical Evidence from March 12, 2010 to October 26, 2011

On March 22, 2010, Plaintiff was seen at Westside for a sleep prescription refill, reporting that her lower back pain had improved. T. 346. Plaintiff was diagnosed with insomnia, peripheral neuropathy, and hypertension and advised to follow-up in four weeks. T. 346-347.

On July 7, 2010, Plaintiff was seen at St. Mary's by LMSW Mary L. LoVerdi, complaining of anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia, and mood swings. T. 374-382. LoVerdi noted that Plaintiff had a history of anger management and that Plaintiff "chose jail instead of anger management group." T. 381. She reported that Plaintiff presented with symptoms of anxiety and depression and added a diagnosis of panic disorder with agoraphobia. T. 381. Plaintiff was seen at St. Mary's again on July 22, 2010, complaining of anxiety panic attacks, paranoia, mood swings, insomnia and irritability. T. 265. LoVerdi reported Plaintiff's mental health symptoms as "depression, mania" and noted that Plaintiff's response to mental health treatment was positive. T. 366. At that time, LoVerdi assessed Plaintiff a Global Assessment Functioning ("GAF") score of 58. T. 364.

In July 2010, consultative psychologist Dr. Christine Ransom performed a psychiatric examination of Plaintiff. T. 383-386. Dr. Ransom diagnosed Plaintiff with "bipolar disorder, currently moderate to marked, " back and knee pain, left shoulder pain, and high blood pressure. T. 386. Dr. Ransom opined that Plaintiff could follow and understand simple directions and instructions, perform simple tasks independently, maintain attention and concentration for tasks, maintain a regular schedule and learn simple tasks. T. 385. Dr. Ransom also assessed that Plaintiff would have "moderate-to-marked" difficulty performing complex tasks independently, relating adequately with others and appropriately dealing with stress due to her bipolar disorder. T. 385. Plaintiff's prognosis was assessed as fair to good with consistent treatment. T. 386.

In July 2010, Harbinder Toor, M.D. performed a physical consultative examination of Plaintiff. T. 387-390. Dr. Toor diagnosed a history of knee pain, balancing problems, back pain, left shoulder pain, depression, anxiety, mood swings, and hypertension. T. 389-390. Dr. Toor assessed that Plaintiff had "moderate to severe limitation" in standing, walking, squatting, or heavy lifting due to pain in the knees and back. He also assessed "mild limitation" in reaching, pushing, and pulling with the left shoulder. T. 390. He recommended that Plaintiff be evaluated by a psychologist or psychiatrist for her mental problems, but "[n]o other medical limitations [were] suggested by [his] evaluation." T. 390.

In August 2010, psychologist Thomas Harding reviewed the evidence in the file and opined that Plaintiff showed mild limitation in activities of daily living, moderate limitations in social functioning and concentration, persistence or pace, and had no episodes of decompensation. Dr. Harding summarized the evidence in the file, noting Plaintiff's history of multiple chemical dependency episodes in the past. Dr. Harding reported that Plaintiff was cooperative but "moderately to markedly irritable and socially inappropriate during the evaluation." Dr. Harding reported that Plaintiff's thought processes were "notable for lack of coherence and goal directedness, " and that her mood and affect, attention and concentration, and memory were moderately to markedly impaired. T. 391.

In a Monroe County Department of Human Services Physical Assessment for Determination of Employability form dated January 5, 2011, LMSW LoVerdi reported that she had seen Plaintiff from July to December 2010 at St. Mary's and opined that Plaintiff would be unable to partake in "activities" for a 12-month period due to a history of substance abuse, anxiety and panic disorders. T. 519, 520.

In January 2011, Plaintiff was seen by Amanat Yosha, M.D., who referred her to an orthopedic surgeon for possible tears in the miniscus of her knee. T. 482-483. In March 2011, Plaintiff was seen at the University of Rochester Medical Center ("URMC"). Gregg Nicandri, M.D. reviewed an MRI of Plaintiff's knee and determined that Plaintiff had a lateral meniscus tear accompanied with moderate knee joint effusion and degenerative changes. Upon examination, Plaintiff showed tenderness at the lateral joint line and a positive McMurray's sign. Dr. Nicandri referred her for knee surgery, which she underwent on March 28, 2011. In April 2011, Plaintiff returned to URMC, and treatment notes show that Plaintiff was progressing well and was not taking any narcotic pain medication. Dr. Nicandri recommended physical therapy. T. 424, 428-429.

In August and September 2011, Plaintiff returned to St. Mary's for mental health treatment. T. 517. At both times, Plaintiff's GAF was assessed at 53, and no other significant changes in her ...


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