United States District Court, W.D. New York
the Plaintiff: Kenneth R. Hiller, Esq.
the Defendant: Elizabeth Rothstein, Esq.
Kathryn L. Smith, A.U.S.A.Office of the United States
DECISION AND ORDER
CHARLES J. SIRAGUSA United States District Judge
an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to
review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner” or
“Defendant”), which denied the application of
Laurie Jenkins (“Plaintiff”) for Social Security
Disability Insurance Benefits. Now before the Court is
Plaintiff's motion (Docket No. [#10]) for judgment on the
pleadings and Defendant's cross-motion [#13] for judgment
on the pleadings. Plaintiff's application is denied,
Defendant's application is granted, and this action is
reader is presumed to be familiar with the parties'
submissions, which contain detailed recitations of the
pertinent facts. The Court has reviewed the administrative
record [#8] and will reference it only as necessary to
explain this Decision and Order.
born in 1959, claims to be disabled due to depression and
migraine headaches, beginning on October 20, 2011. Prior to
the alleged onset date, Plaintiff had earned her
bachelor's degree in Organizational Management (341) and
had held two executive-level jobs. Between approximately 2000
and 2005, Plaintiff worked as the Executive Director of the
Southeast Ecumenical Ministries (a “food pantry and
senior citizen transportation program”) in Rochester.
(346). Between approximately 2005 and October 2011, Plaintiff
held the title of vice-president for the Creative Wellness
Coalition, a mental-health services organization funded by
Monroe County, New York. (343-346). In that position,
Plaintiff supervised two employees and approximately fourteen
volunteers. (344). When she was not working at those jobs,
Plaintiff also operated a “hotdog stand” food
cart that she owned, on an “as needed” basis for
an auction company. (348-349, 354-356, 358).
about October 2011, Plaintiff was terminated from her job,
which caused her a great deal of anger and resentment. (371).
Subsequently, Plaintiff maintains that she resumed using
alcohol as a coping mechanism. In that regard, Plaintiff had
a history of alcohol abuse, but had remained abstinent for 22
years. (135). The termination of Plaintiff's job in 2011
precipitated her return to abusing alcohol. (135) (“She
is holding onto a lot of anger towards her old job, which
triggers her drinking.”). The resumption of alcohol
usage also reportedly exacerbated her long-standing
depression, which was otherwise sufficiently-controlled with
medication to allow her to work. (80). Plaintiff has been
prescribed medication to reduce her “urge to drink
alcohol, ” but does not take it. (327). In that regard,
Plaintiff indicates that she believes that she can drink
without “abusing” alcohol, though she admits that
she may be “in denial” about this. (362-363).
October 2013, while her claim was still pending at the
administrative level, Plaintiff began working full time as a
janitor for a manufacturing corporation that owned several
office buildings. (352-353). Plaintiff was responsible for
maintaining one of the office buildings by herself, and also
assisted other janitorial staff at various times with
particular projects, such as moving office furniture. (316,
369). Plaintiff indicated that she enjoyed the job (363-364,
367, 370-371), which was far less stressful than her previous
executive-level positions. (371). However, Plaintiff
indicated that she sometimes missed work, due to having
migraine headaches “once or twice a month.”
relevant times, Plaintiff had a close relationship with her
adult son, and she also provided assistance to her elderly
mother, by taking her shopping regularly. (368). Plaintiff
acknowledged that she had support from her family and at
least one good friend. (246). Additionally, prior to 2012,
Plaintiff had a live-in boyfriend for 18 years. (365). After
that relationship ended, Plaintiff began dating again, and by
January 2015, was engaged to be married. (178). Plaintiff
also takes care of her two pet dogs. (365, 368). Plaintiff
owns her own home and a rental property. (21, 315, 767).
record contains three separate reports concerning
Plaintiff's mental impairments and their effect on her
ability to work. On October 2, 2012, Christine Ransom, Ph.D.
(“Ransom”) performed a one-time consultative
psychological evaluation at the Commissioner's request.
Plaintiff reportedly told Ransom that she had been receiving
treatment for depression since 1999. (687). However,
Plaintiff reportedly denied having any “drug and
alcohol history.” (688). After examining Plaintiff,
Ransom offered the following opinion, in pertinent part:
This individual will have moderate difficulty following and
understanding simple directions and instructions, perform
simple tasks independently, maintain attention and
concentration for simple tasks, maintain a simple regular
schedule, learn simple new tasks. She will have moderate to
marked difficulty performing complex tasks, relat[ing]
adequately with others and appropriately deal[ing] with
stress. Areas of difficulty are secondary to major depressive
disorder currently moderate to marked, anxiety disorder NOS
currently moderate to marked.
two months later, on November 27, 2012, Plaintiff was
examined by Tara Russow, Ph.D. (“Russow”), in
connection with vocational rehabilitation and training.
(785-789). Russow performed a “comprehensive evaluation
of intellectual and personality functioning, ” using a
variety of testing methods. (785). Whereas Plaintiff
reportedly did not disclose her alcohol problem to Ransom,
she admitted to Russow that she had “a history of . . .
alcohol dependence.” (785, 786). Russow, stated, in
Results of the MCMI-III personality testing indicate that Ms.
Jenkins is not experiencing severe or acute difficulties of
clinical nature at this time, which may reflect the efficacy
of her current treatment regimen. There were no significant
score elevations seen on the scales measuring somatization,
mania, drug dependence, trauma, major depression,
hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, or any form of
psychosis. There were mild elevations in her anxiety,
dysthymia, and alcohol dependence scores, which is not
unexpected given her situation and history.
Russow indicated that IQ testing showed that Plaintiff is in
the average range of intelligence. (787). Russow continued:
Ms. Jenkins demonstrated excellent planning ability, social
awareness, pattern recognition, judgment, knowledge of social
convention, common sense, and evaluation of consequences even
if she chooses to do otherwise. Within the average ranges are
her receptive & expressive language abilities, recall of
words, logic & abstract reasoning, fund of knowledge,
long-term memory, and crystallized intelligence. Weaknesses
are seen in her attention, concentration, immediate auditory
memory, visualization, auditory perception & recall,
sequencing ability, alertness to visual detail, ability to
differentiate important from unimportant information, visual
processing speed, motor speed, coordination, cognitive
adaptation, learning flexibility, and visual perception &
response to abstract designs & symbols. Deficits are
apparent in her other mathematical knowledge &
calculations, numerical reasoning, abstract figure analysis
& reconstruction abilities, visual-motor integration, and
spatial relations capacity.
Russow opined that Plaintiff's “relapse into
alcohol dependence [might] well undermine her efforts and
those of her healthcare providers” to treat her
depression. (788). In sum, Russow concluded that Plaintiff
was capable of working, but indicated that she could not help
Plaintiff determine which type of work would be most suitable
for her unless and until she “attain[ed]
finally, on November 14, 2013, Diane Morse, M.D.
(“Morse”) completed a “Mental Residual
Functional Capacity Questionnaire.” (800-804). Unlike
Ransom and Russow, Morse was a treating physician. However,
at the time she completed the report, Ransom had only met
with Plaintiff on two or perhaps three occasions, as
Plaintiff had just become a patient in or about May of 2013.
Morse, an internal medicine physician, had agreed to write
prescriptions for Plaintiff's mental health medications,
based upon the recommendations of her colleague, Dr. Michael
Privitera, M.D. (“Privitera”), a psychiatrist.
(891) (“Patient is referred by Diane Morse MD who is
willing to be ongoing prescriber after these
consultations.”). In any event, on November 14, 2013,
Morse completed the aforementioned report, and indicated that
Plaintiff was unable to work, due to
“depression.” (800-804). Morse opined that
Plaintiff was taking medication but had “not improved
yet.” (800). Morse indicated, for example, that
Plaintiff would have very significant restrictions in her
ability to remember work procedures, understand and ...