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Garcia v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

March 20, 2015



MARIAN W. PAYSON, Magistrate Judge.


Plaintiff Natalie Garcia ("Garcia") brings this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying her applications for Supplemental Security Income Benefits and Disability Insurance Benefits ("SSI/DIB"). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to the disposition of this case by a United States magistrate judge. (Docket # 14).

Currently before the Court are the parties' motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docket ## 12, 13). For the reasons set forth below, I hereby vacate the decision of the Commissioner and remand this claim for further administrative proceedings consistent with this decision.


I. Procedural Background

Garcia applied for SSI/DIB on December 8, 2010, alleging disability beginning on January 1, 2009, due to mental health issues, post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") and asthma. (Tr. 138-45, 169).[1] On February 18, 2011, the Social Security Administration denied both of Garcia's claims for benefits, finding that she was not disabled. (Tr. 49-51). Garcia requested and was granted a hearing before Administrative Law Stanley K. Chin (the "ALJ"). (Tr. 93-97). The ALJ conducted a hearing on January 17, 2012. (Tr. 22-48). In a decision dated January 23, 2012, the ALJ found that Garcia was not disabled and was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 55-65).

On June 18, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Garcia's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-5). Garcia commenced this action on August 15, 2013 seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. (Docket # 1).

II. Relevant Medical Evidence[2]

Treatment records indicate that Garcia commenced mental health treatment at Evelyn Brandon Health Center in November 2010. (Tr. 652). Initially, Garcia was evaluated for treatment by Amy Rosechandler ("Rosechandler"), MS, who diagnosed Garcia with alcohol dependence, anxiety disorder not otherwise specified, psychotic disorder not otherwise specified and rule out bipolar disorder. (Tr. 652, 668). Garcia reported a history of physical abuse, including domestic violence incidents involving her former husband. (Tr. 653). Garcia had recently moved to the Rochester area. ( Id. ).

Garcia reported that she had been hospitalized in 2009 for a "nervous breakdown" after a mental health arrest for preaching in the streets and refusing to move. (Tr. 655). Also in 2009, Garcia was incarcerated following an incident in which she stabbed her former husband with a knife. (Tr. 671). According to Garcia, the charges were ultimately dismissed. ( Id. ). Garcia continued to attend appointments with Rosechandler until January 13, 2011, when she was reassigned to Jamie Lee Watt ("Watt"), MS, MHC, for further treatment. (Tr. 680). The treatment notes indicate that Garcia was reassigned in order to attend treatment at a location closer to her residence. ( Id. ).

Garcia met with Watt approximately twice a month between January 2011 and May 2012. (Tr. 680-795, 813-54). During those appointments, Garcia routinely presented with a depressed or anxious mood and affect and complained of depression, anxiety and isolation. ( Id. ). Garcia described a variety of stressors that she experienced in her life, including volatile relationships with her significant others. ( Id. ). Watt generally provided guidance and taught Garcia skills designed to assist her in lessening her symptoms of anxiety and depression. ( Id. ). During these sessions, Watt assessed Garcia with a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") to range between 70 and 55. ( Id. ). In January 2011, Garcia learned that she was pregnant, and her child was born in August. ( Id. ).

Garcia also attended appointments with Kevin McIntyre ("McIntyre"), MD, beginning in June 2011. ( Id. ). Because Garcia was pregnant, McIntyre advised against commencing medications to address her mental impairments. ( Id. ). In August 2011, McIntyre prescribed Prozac and increased the dosage in October 2011. ( Id. ). In February 2012, McIntyre further increased the dosage in response to Garcia's reports of mood swings, depression, poor appetite, nightmares, difficulty sleeping, isolation, frustration and thoughts of hurting herself. ( Id. ).

On June 30, 2011, Watt completed a mental Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") questionnaire relating to Garcia. (Tr. 528-32). Watt reported that she had treated Garcia every other week for the previous six months. ( Id. ). According to Watt, Garcia had been diagnosed with anxiety disorder, not otherwise specified, and borderline traits. ( Id. ). Watt assessed Garcia's current GAF to be 60 and noted that Garcia's highest GAF for the past year was 60.[3] ( Id. ). Watt indicated that Garcia had responded well to treatment. ( Id. ). Watt indicated that Garcia demonstrated symptoms of depression and anxiety and had a history of psychotic symptoms that were not currently present. ( Id. ). Watt also noted that Garcia was pregnant and had a history of abusive relationships. ( Id. ). According to Watt, Garcia was developing coping skills during therapy sessions, and she recommended further treatment. ( Id. ).

Watt opined that Garcia was unable to meet competitive standards[4] in her ability to understand, remember and carry out detailed instructions, set realistic goals or make plans independently of others, and deal with stress of semi-skilled and skilled work. ( Id. ). According to Watt, Garcia was seriously limited[5] in her ability to complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically-based symptoms, accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism, get along with coworkers or peers without unduly distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes, and deal with normal work stress. ( Id. ). Watt further opined that Garcia had a limited, but satisfactory ability to maintain regular attendance and be punctual within customary, usually strict tolerances, sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision, work in coordination with or proximity to others without being unduly distracted, perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods, ask simple questions or request assistance, respond appropriately to changes in a routine work setting, interact appropriately with the general public, maintain socially appropriate behavior, travel in unfamiliar places and use public transportation. Additionally, Watt opined that Garcia was unlimited ...

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