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Lockwood v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

August 8, 2014



HUGH B. SCOTT, Magistrate Judge.


The Hon. Richard J. Arcara referred this case to this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). Pending before the Court are cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings by plaintiff Vanessa A. Lockwood ("Lockwood") (Dkt. No. 10) and the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") (Dkt. No. 9).

The Commissioner already found Lockwood disabled as of August 1, 2007 under the Social Security Act ("the Act") and has rewarded benefits accordingly. Lockwood now argues that the Commissioner erred in not pushing her onset date to August 20, 2003. Lockwood argues for the earlier date in several ways. Lockwood argues that the Commissioner failed to properly evaluate and weigh the medical opinion of her treating physician, Dr. Barbra Majeroni, using the six factors as required under 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(d). Lockwood also argues that the Commissioner did not comply with the requirements of SSR 83-20 in determining the onset date of Plaintiff's disability. The Commissioner, according to Lockwood, failed to consider or evaluate the statements of her family members under SSR 06-03 and SSR 96-7P. Finally, Lockwood argues that the Commissioner violated SSR 82-59 and improperly found that she refused reasonable care which would have corrected her medical problem.

The Commissioner responds that substantial evidence supports an onset date of August 1, 2007. According to the Commissioner, Lockwood was not disabled prior to August 1, 2007, and Dr. Majeroni's medical opinion was not fully supported by the record. Dr. Majeroni's opinion was based on subjective complaints rather than objective medical evidence; testimony from non-medical sources did not demonstrate that Lockwood's symptoms prevented her from participating in substantial gainful activity prior to August 1, 2007. Finally, the Commissioner asserts that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") explored Lockwood's reasons for her refusal of treatment, and found them unsupported by evidence in the record.

The Court has deemed the motion submitted on papers under Rule 78(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons below, the Court respectfully recommends granting the Commissioner's motion. The Court further recommends denying Lockwood's cross-motion.


A. Procedural History

On December 21, 2004, Lockwood filed a second[2] claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under the Act, claiming a disability beginning on September 1, 1991. (Certified Administrative Record at 17, 107-10, hereinafter designated as [17, 107-10].) The Commissioner denied Lockwood's initial claim, after which Lockwood requested a hearing. [68, 96-102.] On March 21, 2007, Lockwood amended her alleged onset date to August 20, 2003. [77.] Lockwood's hearing was held on May 18, 2007, before ALJ Timothy M. McGuan. [405-27.] On July 3, 2007, the ALJ denied Lockwood's claim. [65-76.] Lockwood filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision. [65.] On March 25, 2009, the Appeals Council approved Lockwood's request to review the ALJ's decision. [51-55.] The decision was reviewed on May 1, 2009. [46.] Upon remand, the ALJ held a second hearing on October 15, 2009. [428-49.] Following the hearing, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision on October 27, 2009, finding Lockwood disabled as of August 1, 2007, but not disabled before then. [17-26.] Lockwood filed a complaint on October 15, 2012, and this case followed (Dkt. No. 1).

B. Factual and Medical Background

Vanessa Lockwood was born on August 15, 1953. Lockwood has completed high school and two years of college (Dkt. No. 1 at 2). Lockwood has suffered from a number of ailments, including multiple uterine fibroids and Paranoid Schizophrenia. [236, 333.] Lockwood has also been diagnosed with depression and anxiety and has reported problems sleeping. [261, 333.] Lockwood suffered from symptoms such as swelling of the uterus, uterine bleeding, and abdominal pain caused by her uterine fibroids. Id. She had been treated with Depo-Provera injections every three months to control the pain and bleeding. Id.

Lockwood had no past relevant work (Dkt. No. 1 at 2). Lockwood alleged she had to stop working in 2003 because of her fibroid condition, but her earning records are somewhat inconsistent on this point. According to her earning records, Lockwood earned $7.73 that year and the years before that indicate no earnings at all. [114, 178]; Dkt. No. 10. Lockwood worked for three months in 2007 as a part-time employee at Goodwill, but her employment ended in August 2007. [360, 436.]

1. Medical evidence between August 20, 2003 and August 1, 2007.

On September 16, 2003, a State Agency Disability Analyst reviewed Lockwood's record and opined that Lockwood had no postural, manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. [214.] On January 3, 2005, about two years after Lockwood filed for SSI, Lockwood had her initial consultation with Dr. Majeroni, who performed a disability assessment and opined that Lockwood could only perform sedentary work. [225, 234, 321.] Dr. Majeroni's opinion was based on Lockwood's complaints of pain when standing for long periods of time. Id.

On February 18, 2005, just over one month after Lockwood's consultation with Dr. Majeroni, the consultative physician, Dr. Mohammad Jaffri, examined Lockwood at the request of the State Agency for her SSI application. [236-40.] Dr. Jaffri noted Lockwood's complaints of pain in her lower abdomen while squatting, and that she had restricted range of motion in her lumbar spine. [238.] Dr. Jaffri performed an x-ray of Lockwood's lumbar spine and determined she had a large pelvic mass, a slight narrowing of disk space and mild scoliosis. [288.] Dr. Jaffri opined that Lockwood had moderate limitations with lifting and carrying heavy objects and strenuous activities, and mild to moderate limitations with long walks. Lockwood was not required to undergo a psychiatric exam because her claims were of physical impairments. [240.]

On March 3, 2005, Lockwood complained that the Depo-Provera shots had not been effective and had inquired about a hysterectomy. [243.] On April 28, 2005, Lockwood went to Erie County Medical Center ("ECMC") to discuss surgery, but after one half-hour of waiting, became frustrated and "stormed out." [308.] As a result of this outburst, the attending doctor wrote, "I will not see this patient again & will not do surgery for her!" [308.] On her way out, Lockwood indicated that she did not want the surgery anymore, but also said that she would go somewhere else for the procedure. [308.] At the hearing on May 18, 2007, Lockwood claimed the doctor did not clear her for surgery. [413-14, 433.]

On October 20, 2005, Lockwood had no complaints of pain and was asymptomatic. [304.] On January 5, 2006, Lockwood complained again of bleeding and was still considering surgery; she continued with the Depo-Provera shots and painkillers for treatment. [294-300, 302.] In 2006, Lockwood began showing signs of menopause and in response, her doctors began to taper her Depo-Provera shots. [419.] During her visit with Dr. Majeroni on January 23, 2007, Lockwood stated she was doing fine, and noted her mood was better and her affect was bright. [351.]

On February 9, 2007, Dr. Majeroni completed a Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") assessment and opined that Lockwood could lift ten pounds frequently, stand or walk for less than two hours during an eight hour workday, and had no limitations in sitting, pushing and/or pulling. [309-17.] At this point, Dr. Majeroni had seen Lockwood monthly for the past two years. [310.] It was during this assessment that Lockwood was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, which was controlled, shortly thereafter, with medication. [313, 420.] Dr. Majeroni had noted that Lockwood's mental impairments were "not disabling." [310, 313.]

On April 2, 2007, Dr. Majeroni completed another RFC assessment where she opined that Lockwood could perform sedentary work. [312.] Dr. Majeroni opined that Lockwood's limitations onset occurred no later than January 2005, which was her first examination of Lockwood. Id. On May 29, 2007, Dr. Majeroni stated that Lockwood was "doing OK." [343.]

2. Medical evidence subsequent to August 1, 2007.

On August 6, 2007, Lockwood visited the emergency room to obtain psychiatric medications that she claims to have been stolen. [358.] The emergency room staff observed Lockwood's behavior and determined she was suffering from delusions. [358.] During the visit, Lockwood was making incoherent statements about being sexually propositioned by her boss, being offered to sleep with three men for $20, 000, and being poisoned. Lockwood also made statements concerning a girl's uterus being torn from her body and about having an unspecified connection with the people who killed John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. [358.] On September 13, 2007, a psychiatric evaluation revealed Lockwood suffered from Paranoid Schizophrenia and Schizo-Affective Disorder. [378-80.] Her GAF score was assessed at 50, which indicated serious symptoms.[3] [379.]

Lockwood's Paranoid Schizophrenia has caused audio and visual hallucinations of imaginary beings she refers to as "hybrids."[4] [402.] Lockwood claimed she had been suffering from hallucinations since childhood. [367.] On August 1, 2007, an interaction with the "hybrids" caused Lockwood to ultimately lose her job at Goodwill. [401-03, 436, 438.] On July 9, 2008, Lockwood's treating ...

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