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Lange v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

April 25, 2017

BETHANY A. LANGE, Plaintiff,


          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Represented by counsel, Bethany A. Lange (“plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying her applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Presently before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's motion is granted.

         II. Procedural History

         The record reveals that in September 2012, plaintiff (d/o/b January 18, 1975) applied for DIB and SSI, alleging disability as of December 1, 2011. After her applications were denied, plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held before administrative law judge Bruce Mazzarella (“the ALJ”) on May 21, 2014. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on October 8, 2014. The Appeals Council denied review of that decision and this timely action followed.

         III. Summary of the Record

         The relatively sparse record reveals that plaintiff treated with Dr. Leeland Jones since approximately May 28, 2010. Dr. Jones diagnosed plaintiff with major depressive disorder, panic disorder, and PTSD, and prescribed various antidepressant medications. Dr. Jones' treatment records reveal complaints of panic attacks, depression, and trouble sleeping. Dr. Jones' notes do not reveal much about plaintiff's mental state, but indicate that her condition fluctuated. For example, in September 2011 it was noted that plaintiff was “doing better” but had gained 15 pounds in two months, whereas a July 3, 2012 treatment note indicated that plaintiff's medications had not been working for six months (Dr. Jones prescribed her a different antidepressant).

         Dr. Jones submitted two medical assessments of plaintiff's functioning. In the first, dated July 18, 2011, he reported that plaintiff was making “good progress” in her psychiatric treatment, but she was “unable to work [at that] time.” T. 217. Dr. Jones opined that plaintiff was moderately limited in her ability to maintain attention and concentration, make simple decisions, interact appropriately with others, and maintain socially appropriate behavior without exhibiting behavioral extremes. He opined that she was very limited in functioning in a work setting at a consistent pace. In Dr. Jones' second opinion, dated January 16, 2012, he opined that plaintiff was limited as described above, but was additionally very limited in that she experienced panic attacks.

         Dr. Gregory Fabiano completed a consulting psychiatric examination at the request of the state agency on November 21, 2012. Plaintiff reported that she was attending beauty school. She indicated that due to a domestic violence incident, she suffered from panic attacks associated with PTSD. On MSE, plaintiff's affect was flat and her recent and remote memory skills were mildly impaired, but otherwise the results were unremarkable. Dr. Fabiano opined that plaintiff could “follow and understand simple directions and instructions, perform simple tasks independently, maintain attention and concentration, maintain a regular schedule, learn new tasks, perform complex tasks independently, make appropriate decisions, relate adequately with others, and appropriately deal with stress.” T. 235. In his opinion, psychiatric problems, in themselves, did not appear significant enough to interfere with plaintiff's functioning on a daily basis.

         On December 7, 2012, state agency psychologist Dr. Daniel Mangold reviewed plaintiff's record and opined that plaintiff “appear[ed] to retain the mental ability to perform simple competitive work, ” and her “ability to deal with co-workers and the public would be somewhat reduced, but adequate to handle brief and superficial contact. Her ability to tolerate and respond appropriately to supervision would be reduced, but adequate to handle ordinary levels of supervision in the customary work setting.” T. 93.

         Dr. Jones' treatment notes subsequent to his medical assessments indicate that plaintiff continued to treat at his office, with nurse practitioner (“NP”) Sarah Conboy, through March 2014. Results of MSEs recorded by NP Conboy were generally unremarkable. In September 2013, NP Conboy noted that plaintiff was “doing well” and had “made a salon in her house” T. 257. In November 2013, she noted that plaintiff reported that her relationships were good and that she was considering working toward a state board exam in cosmetics. Through the latest treatment note in March 2014, plaintiff reported that she was doing well and working toward her board exam.

         On May 8, 2014, NP Conboy completed two reports on plaintiff's ability to perform work-related activities which were cosigned by Dr. Jumaid Hashim. The reports indicated that NP Conboy had treated plaintiff monthly since December 2012. NP Conboy opined that plaintiff was “[s]eriously limited, but not precluded, ”[1] from remembering work-like procedures, maintaining attention for a two- hour segment, and maintaining regular attendance and being customary within customary tolerances. T. 266. She opined that she was “[u]nable to meet competitive standards” in completing a normal workday or week without interruptions from psychologically-based symptoms. Id. She also opined that she was “[l]imited but satisfactory” in various other areas of functioning. Id. In a handwritten comment, it was noted that plaintiff's “condition [was] improving but very possible for decline [with] change in stress, ” and “[a]t [that] time [working] [was] not deemed best for her mental health.” T. 267.

         NP Conboy noted that plaintiff was prescribed Adderall and Trazodone and was responding well to the Aderall. She noted that plaintiff did not “do well under pressure.” T. 268. In NP Conboy's opinion, plaintiff was moderately limited in maintaining social functioning; markedly limited in concentration, persistence, or pace; and had suffered one or two repeated episodes of decompensation within a 12-month period.

         IV. The ...

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