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O'Connor-Spinner v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

June 8, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



This matter is once again before the Court on a request by Plaintiff Louquetta R. O'Connor-Spinner ("Ms. O'Connor-Spinner") for judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner") denying her applications for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II and Social Security Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), following a remand by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for an administrative rehearing. For the reasons set forth below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.


A. Procedural History

Ms. O'Connor-Spinner filed applications for SSI and DIB effective January 29, 2005, alleging a disability onset date of December 18, 2003, due to symptoms stemming from a blood disorder, arthritis, and obesity. After the agency denied Ms. O'Connor-Spinner's applications initially and upon reconsideration, she appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Ronald T. Jordan ("ALJ Jordan"), as well as a vocational expert, on January 31, 2006. On June 21, 2006, ALJ Jordan issued a decision in which he found that Ms. O'Connor-Spinner was not disabled under the Act because she was able to perform a significant number of jobs in the economy despite her functional limitations. The Appeals Council denied review of ALJ Jordan's decision, making it the final decision of the Commissioner.

Ms. O'Connor-Spinner filed a request for review with this Court, which upheld ALJ Jordan's decision. She then filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. On November 29, 2010, the Circuit Court remanded Ms. O'Connor-Spinner's case to the agency for further proceedings. The Seventh Circuit held that ALJ Jordan failed to direct the Vocational Expert ("the VE") to the totality of Ms. O'Connor-Spinner's limitations, thus failing to support ALJ Jordan's step five determination that she could perform some jobs and thus was not disabled. The Circuit Court noted that ALJ Jordan found Ms. O'Connor-Spinner had moderate deficiencies in concentration, persistence, or pace and, therefore, was required to include this limitation in his hypothetical question to the VE to account for those deficiencies.

Upon remand, Ms. O'Connor-Spinner's earlier claims were merged with applications for SSI and DIB that she filed on September 10, 2009. She also submitted new evidence and testified at a supplemental hearing in June 2012, which was presided over by a new Administrative Law Judge Dwight D. Wilkerson (the "ALJ"). In August 2012, the ALJ found that Ms. O'Connor-Spinner had severe physical impairments, however, she did not have a listing-level impairment or combination of impairments. The ALJ specifically found that her impairments due to depression did not rise to the level of a "severe" mental impairment, and therefore concluded that she did not have a mental impairment that significantly limited her ability to perform basic work-related activities, and found that she was not disabled because she could perform a significant number of jobs. The Appeal's Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Ms. O'Connor-Spinner has now filed this action seeking judicial review of the agency's second decision finding that she is not disabled.

B. Factual Background

Ms. O'Connor-Spinner was about 34 years old on her alleged onset date and 43 years old when the ALJ rendered his decision in August 2012. She is a high school graduate and performed past relevant work as a delicatessen clerk, nurse's aide, shoe gluer and fast-food worker.

The parties agree on the significance of Ms. O'Connor-Spinner's physical impairments due to degenerative disc disease, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, sleep apnea, restrictive lung disease and obesity; thus the only relevant facts for purposes of this appeal relate to Ms. O'Connor-Spinner's mental impairments. Ms. O'Connor-Spinner alleged an onset date for her depression of December 2003. Although the record does not contain treatment records from any mental health providers between 2002 and her first hearing in January 2006, physicians investigating her physical ailments observed signs of and alluded to a history of depression. Ms. O'Connor-Spinner was sent to psychologist Dr. Kamla Paul, Ph.D. at the request of the Disability Determination Bureau for a consultative psychological examination in May 2004. Dr. Paul diagnosed Ms. O'Connor-Spinner with depressive disorder, and noted that she has a blood disorder that causes blood clots in her brain, resulting in stuttering, confusion, and forgetting her identity. (Tr. 247-50.)

In late May 2004, state agency psychological consultant Dr. D. Unversaw, Ph.D. ("Dr. Unversaw") reviewed Ms. O'Connor-Spinner's records and concluded in his summary that her psychological condition "appears to moderately affect her concentration/pace/persistence" but that she had the "ability to perform moderately complex work-related tasks." (Tr. 267.) However, on the Psychiatric Review Technique worksheet, Dr. Unversaw checked the box noting that she only had a mild degree of difficulty in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr. 261.) Ms. O'Connor-Spinner testified at her first hearing that she was in treatment at Community Mental Health Center ("CMHC") but did not provide treatment records. ALJ Jordan held the record open for thirty days to allow her to submit additional mental health records, but no records were submitted. ALJ Jordan found that Ms. O'Connor-Spinner's depression was a severe impairment based upon Dr. Unversaw's opinion, but noted the inconsistencies in Dr. Unversaw's report with regard to Ms. O'Connor-Spinner's difficulties with concentration.

After Ms. O'Connor-Spinner filed subsequent applications in September 2009, additional mental health records were provided. She provided records of her visits to CMHC in March 2006, where she was diagnosed with major depression. Those records indicated that Prozac helped with Ms. O'Connor-Spinner's depression and anger. Records from CMHC from December 2010 through June 2011 indicated that Ms. O'Connor-Spinner was learning coping skills to deal with family stressors, her depression was better and she reported no side effects from her medication. Dr. Robert Kurzhals, Ph.D. ("Dr. Kurhzhals") performed a consultative psychological examination for the State agency on December 2, 2009. Dr. Kurzhals adopted the diagnosis of bipolar disorder; however, it was only "by history" as reported by Ms. O'Connor-Spinner, and he noted that she did not appear to be particularly anxious or manic.


Disability is defined as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. ยง 423(d)(1)(A). In order to be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that her physical or mental limitations prevent her from doing not only her previous work, but any other kind of ...

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