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Gillespie v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

October 4, 2016

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



         On November 14, 2014, Plaintiff Amanda S. Gillespie (“Gillespie”) filed a complaint in this Court seeking reversal or remand of the Social Security Commissioner's Defendant Acting Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner”), final decision denying her application for Social Security Income (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). (Doc. No. 1 at 1). On May 22, 2015, Gillespie filed her opening brief. (Doc. No. 19). On August 27, 2015, Defendant, Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”), filed a Memorandum in Support of the Commissioner's Decision requesting the Court to affirm the decision denying SSI and DIB. (Doc. No. 25). On November 05, 2015, Gillespie filed a reply brief. (Doc. No. 28). This Court may enter a ruling in this matter based on the parties consent, 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. Procedure

         On September 7, 2011, Gillespie filed an application for SSI and DIB with the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) alleging disability beginning September 30, 2008. The SSA denied Gillespie's application initially on December 12, 2012, and then again on February 8, 2012, after reconsideration was granted. On August 6, 2013, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) where Gillespie, Gillespie's fiancé Steve Newsome, and an impartial vocational expert appeared and testified. On January 14, 2014, the ALJ issued his decision finding that Gillespie was not disabled at Step Five of the evaluation and denied her application for DIB and SSI. On September 17, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Gillespie's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Through this action, Gillespie seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. Facts

         Gillespie was born on February 25, 1975, making her 33 years old on the date of her SSI and DIB applications, and has at least a high school education. (Doc. No. 11 at 36). At the time of the August 2014 hearing, Gillespie was unemployed. Prior to the alleged onset date, Gillespie reportedly worked as a bench press operator and a certified nurse aide. (Doc. No. 21 at 2).

         A. Relevant Medical Evidence of Gillespie's Mental Impairments[1]

         As a part of her disability application, Gillespie provided the ALJ with medical evidence from her mental health counselor, psychiatrists, nurse practitioner, and primary care physicians over the twelve years between November 2001 and October 2013-two months past the date of her hearing. Throughout this period, Gillespie was treated with a varying medication regimen for depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and polysubstance abuse. She was hospitalized for brief periods in July 2007 for suicidal thoughts and in October 2013 for opiate withdrawal. The record shows that her symptoms ebbed and flowed as she was treated.

         After submitting her DIB and SSI application, Gillespie was examined by State Agency physicians. In November 2011, Dr. Russell G. Coulter-Kern examined Gillespie diagnosing her with bipolar II disorder and social anxiety disorder. Dr. Coulter-Kern noted Gillespie's poor immediate but fair recent and past memory as well as her appropriate eye contact with a logical and persistent thought process. In February 2012, H. M. Bacchus, Jr., M.D., performed a physical consultative examination in which he assessed Gillespie's bipolar disorder and depression noting that she had a slightly depressed mood and an intact memory.

         Of greatest relevance to this action, Gillespie was examined by State Agency psychologist, Benetta E. Johnson, Ph.D. in December 2011. On December 9, 2011, Dr. Johnson completed a Psychiatric Review Technique (“PRT”) worksheet, in which she rated Gillespie's functional limitations related to the Paragraph B criteria involved in the Step Three Listing Analysis. On the PRT, Dr. Johnson opined that Gillespie had mild restrictions in maintaining social functioning and activities of daily living, moderate difficulty with maintaining concentration, persistence, and pace, and no episodes of decompensation of extended duration.

         That same day, Dr. Johnson also completed a mental residual functional capacity (“MRFC”) assessment intended to assist the ALJ in his RFC determination. In Section I of the MRFC form, entitled “Summary Conclusions, ” Dr. Johnson checked boxes in several categories assessing Gillespie's limitation in sustained concentration and persistence. In Section III of the MRFC form entitled “Functional Capacity Assessment, ” Dr. Johnson provided a narrative about Gillespie's mental limitations. In January 2012 and February 2012, State Agency psychologist, Joseph A. Pressner, Ph.D., affirmed Dr. Johnson's opinions after reviewing the evidence in Gillespie's file to date.

         B. Hearing Testimony

         At the ALJ hearing, Gillespie testified that she was unable to work due to her inability to take care of herself by doing household chores or taking medications. She also expressed difficulty with concentration. Gillespie also testified that her symptoms were cyclical, and her depressive periods occurred five to six times per month. In addition, Gillespie explained that her medications and visitations with her psychiatrist every month helped her condition. She also noted that she lived with her four-year-old son and Steve Newsom (“Newsom”), her fiancé, and that she could drive to the gas station, grocery store, and doctor appointments. Furthermore, Gillespie testified that she could perform basic activities, including taking care of her dogs, watching television, taking her son to the park, and cleaning her house. Similar to Gillespie's testimony, Newsom testified that Gillespie would endure day-long crying spells and odd ...

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