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Hinton v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. New York

January 12, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Law Offices of Harry J. Binder and Charles E. Binder, P.C. Attorneys for the Plaintiff, By: Charles E. Binder, Esq., Of Counsel.

          United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York Attorneys for the Defendant, By: Arthur Swerdloff, Assistant United States Attorney Melanie Dyani Hendry, Assistant United States Attorney.



         The Plaintiff Margaret E. Hinton (the “Plaintiff” or the “claimant”) commenced this civil action pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405 et seq. (the “Act”), challenging a final determination by the Defendant, Nancy A. Berryhill (the “Defendant” or the “Commissioner”), the acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Administration”) at the time of filing, that she is ineligible to receive Social Security disability insurance benefits.

         The Court notes that the Plaintiff originally named Carolyn W. Colvin as the Defendant in this action, but by operation of law, the present Acting Commissioner, Nancy A. Berryhill is “automatically substituted as a party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 25(d); see also 45 U.S.C. §405(g) (“Any action instituted in accordance with this subsection shall survive notwithstanding any change in the person occupying the office of Commissioner of Social Security or any vacancy in such office.”).

         Presently before the Court are the parties' cross motions, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Fed. R. Civ. P.” or “Rule”) 12(c) for a judgment on the pleadings. Although the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was disabled as of August 3, 2014, the Plaintiff asks this Court to find that the ALJ erred in failing to find that she was disabled before that date. For the reasons that follow, the Plaintiff's motion is denied, and the Commissioner's motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Relevant Facts

         While the Plaintiff applied for disability benefits based on a combination of mental and physical impairments, the Plaintiff does not dispute the ALJ's findings related to her physical conditions. Therefore, the Court will only address those facts that are related to the Plaintiff's mental impairments.

         1. The Plaintiff's Testimony

         The Plaintiff was 47 years old at the time of her alleged onset. The Plaintiff lives with her husband and one of their adult daughters. She has a high school diploma and took some college classes. She last worked in December 2011, as a dispatch supervisor for United Parcel Service.

         The Plaintiff drives about once a week, and her daughter usually drives her to medical appointments. The Plaintiff's husband handles all of their finances. The Plaintiff bathes herself, and makes simple meals. However, she only goes shopping with her daughter, and her daughter does most of the cooking, laundry, and household cleaning. The Plaintiff asserted that if she spends more than 30 minutes at the grocery store, she has a panic attack. Her only hobby is watching television. She has one friend with whom she communicates on Facebook.

         The Plaintiff testified that her depression was “really bad” at the time, and has affected her ability to function, sleep without medication, and eat. She has panic attacks at least five times a day, and they last for fifteen to forty-five minutes. She cannot concentrate long enough to follow instructions, and feels overwhelmed “all the time.”

         2. The Relevant Medical Evidence

         a. Pederson-Krag Center

         On February 9, 2012, the Plaintiff was admitted to the Pederson-Krag Center for outpatient mental health treatment. On February 14, 2012, Dr. Yuan-Fang Chen evaluated the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff had fair eye contact; an anxious mood with congruent affect; slow speech; and impaired insight and judgment. Dr. Chen diagnosed major depressive disorder and assessed a global assessment of functioning (“GAF”) of 45. She was seen again on February 29, 2012, but did not respond to phone calls or letters after that date. She was discharged from the program on March 21, 2012.

         b. Dr. Renae Ferguson, the Plaintiff's Treating Physician

         Dr. Renae Ferguson (“Dr. Ferguson”), who is a psychiatrist, began treating the Plaintiff on September 13, 2012. The Plaintiff informed Dr. Ferguson that she had been hospitalized twice earlier in the year for two attempted suicides. The Plaintiff described symptoms of insomnia, guilt, fatigue, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, weight gain, feelings of worthlessness, and transient suicidal ideation. She also reported worrying about “everything.” Dr. Ferguson diagnosed the Plaintiff with major depressive disorder, recurrent, and severe, without psychotic features. The Plaintiff's GAF score was 55. Dr. Ferguson prescribed Trazodone, Klonopin, and Viibryd.

         During follow-up examinations in October 2012, and January 2013, the Plaintiff told Dr. Ferguson that she was feeling better due to medication. On October 11, 2012, Dr. Ferguson noted that the Plaintiff had a brighter affect; good insight and judgment; and no thought disorder. On January 9, 2013, Dr. Ferguson ...

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