United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division
OPINION AND ORDER
JOHN E. MARTIN, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed by Plaintiff Stephanie Robinson on November 1, 2012, and Plaintiff's Brief in Support of Her Motion to Reverse the Decision of the Commissioner of Social Security [DE 28], filed by Plaintiff on April 4, 2013. Plaintiff requests that the June 23, 2011, decision denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") be reversed or remanded. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Plaintiff's request for remand.
Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI benefits on December 22, 2006. She alleged disability as of June 15, 2005, due to back problems, headaches, seizures, bad nerves, and high blood pressure. After being denied initially and on reconsideration, a hearing was held in front of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") P. Armstrong. Plaintiff's request for review of ALJ Armstrong's denial of benefits was granted, and a second hearing was held on June 8, 2011, in front of ALJ Jason Mastrangelo. Plaintiff, case worker Michelle Peters, and a Vocational Expert ("VE") testified. ALJ Mastrangelo issued a decision on June 23, 2011, finding Plaintiff not disabled and denying benefits. Plaintiff's request for review from the Appeals Council was denied on August 30, 2012, making ALJ Mastrangelo's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.
The parties filed forms of consent to have this case assigned to a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in this case. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to decide this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Plaintiff was 44 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. She had a high school education and past relevant work experience as a child care worker, security guard, cashier, and telemarketer.
B. Medical Evidence
Plaintiff was taken to the emergency room in June 2005 after suffering a seizure while attending her mother's funeral. Doctors prescribed the anticonvulsant Dilantin in January 2006. She suffered another seizure in November 2006, and a seizure disorder was diagnosed in January 2007. Treating physician Dr. Adolphus Anekwe monitored Plaintiff's seizure disorder and continued to prescribe Dilantin.
Plaintiff began mental health counseling at Tri-City Mental Health Center in September 2007. Dr. Prakash Varghese conducted an intake evaluation. He diagnosed schizoaffective disorder. He determined that Plaintiff had a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score of 55 and prescribed medications. Plaintiff began regular treatment with psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Kang in November 2007. Plaintiff reported that she experienced auditory and visual hallucinations, had poor eating and sleeping habits, and preferred to not be around others. Plaintiff continued regular treatment with Dr. Kang through December 2011. Throughout her treatment, Dr. Kang assigned GAF scores consistently between 55 and 60.
On April 29, 2009, Dr. Kang completed a Mental Impairment Questionnaire in which he checked boxes indicating that Plaintiff's schizoaffective disorder produced appetite disturbance with weight change, mood disturbance, anhedonia, delusions or hallucinations, paranoia or inappropriate suspiciousness, difficulty thinking or concentrating, perceptual disturbance, social withdrawal or isolation, decreased energy, and generalized persistent anxiety. Dr. Kang listed Plaintiff's ability to remember work-like procedures, to understand and remember very short and simple instructions, to maintain attention for a two-hour segment, to work in coordination with or proximity to others without being unduly distracted, to complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically-based symptoms, to perform at a consistent pace without unreasonable number and length of rest periods, to get along with coworkers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes, and to deal with normal work stress as poor or non-existent. He also checked boxes indicating that Plaintiff's mental impairment produced marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning and constant deficiencies in concentration, persistence, or pace, and he opined that Plaintiff would experience continual episodes of decompensation in work or work-like settings. Dr. Kang concluded that Plaintiff was unable to work.
Plaintiff began seeing psychiatrist Dr. Melvin Hess in January 2011. Dr. Hess affirmed the diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and continued prescribing Plaintiff's medications. On May 11, 2011, Dr. Hess completed a Mental Impairment Questionnaire in which he checked boxes indicating that Plaintiff was unable to meet competitive standards with regard to completing a normal workday or workweek without interruption from psychologically-based symptoms; getting along with coworkers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes; responding appropriately to changes in a routine work setting; dealing with normal work stress; being aware of normal hazards and taking appropriate precautions; understanding remembering, and carrying out detailed instructions; dealing with the stress of semiskilled or skilled work; and interacting appropriately with the public. Dr. Hess also checked boxes indicating that Plaintiff suffered from moderate restrictions with regard to social functioning and concentration, persistence, or pace and that she was expected to experience one-to-two episodes of decompensation within a twelve month period. He opined that Plaintiff's mental impairment would cause her to miss more than four days of work each month.
Consultative psychologist Dr. John Heroldt evaluated Plaintiff in February 2010. Dr. Heroldt recounted Plaintiff's responses to his questioning and concluded that her memory was below average. When Plaintiff answered that she would leave if she saw smoke and fire in a crowded movie theater, Dr. Heroldt noted "as an aside" that most people with an anxiety problem would answer that they would not be in a crowded movie theater in the first place. In his summary, Dr. Heroldt included a diagnosis of malingering. AR 940.
C. Plaintiff's Testimony
Plaintiff testified at the hearing that she did not believe she could work a full time job because she has difficulties getting along with people, because she has trouble leaving the house, because she has pain, and because she is schizophrenic. She said the pain was in her back and knee and that it gets worse when it is cold and in the heat and rain. She rated the pain on average as an eight on a ten point scale and said she uses a heating pad and Vicodin to attempt to alleviate it.
Plaintiff also testified that she has seizures two to three times a month but that she does not go to the hospital for them because she does not think it helps. After a seizure, she said it can take months for her memory to return. She stated that she takes medications to try to control the seizures.
When questioned about her mental and emotional health, Plaintiff stated that she has problems with memory and concentration and that she hears voices and sees people. She also said she has problems getting along with people and is more comfortable staying home alone than going out. Plaintiff testified that she has had these problems from an early age but that they recently got worse.
D. Testimony of Case Worker Michelle Peters
Plaintiff's case worker at Regional Mental Health, Michelle Peters, testified as a witness at the hearing. She stated that she visited Plaintiff once a week, every week since she began working at Regional Mental Health two months earlier. The visits lasted about an hour on average. Ms. Peters testified that Plaintiff appeared the same in mood and behavior at home as she did at the hearing. She also testified that she did not believe Plaintiff's testimony to be exaggerated.
When questioned further by the ALJ, Ms. Peters testified that she had never witnessed any of Plaintiff's seizures or noticed any physical difficulties although their ...