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Mawk v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 31, 2018

DONNA L. MAWK, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1], Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Donna L. Mawk (“Mawk”) requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying her Application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”) as well as Title II1. For the following reasons, the Court REMANDS the decision of the Commissioner for further consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         On August 26, 2013, Mawk filed an application for disability benefits under Title II and SSI, alleging a disability onset beginning May 28, 2013 in both applications. (Filing No. 13-2 at 17.) Her claims were initially denied on November 25, 2013, and upon reconsideration on January 24, 2014. Id. at 17. Mawk timely filed a request for a hearing, which was held on June 11, 2015, via a video-conference, before Administrative Law Judge Roxanne Fuller (the “ALJ”). The ALJ issued a decision on October 21, 2015, denying Mawk's applications. Id. at 32.

         On November 19, 2015, Mawk then requested review by the Appeals Council. Id. at 13. On December 16, 2016, the Appeals Council denied her request for review of the ALJ's decision, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review. Id. at 2. On February 10, 2017, Mawk filed this action for judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Filing No. 1.)

         B. Factual Background[2]

         At the time of Mawk's alleged onset date in 2013, she was fifty (50) years old. She has a high school education. (Filing No. 15 at 5.) Her past relevant work included collections agent, home health aide, automobile assembler, a forklift operator, and a machine operator. Id. Mawk alleges the following impairments: severe depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), diabetic nerve damage, neuropathy, diabetes, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and high blood pressure. Id. at 5. The Court finds no reversible error with the ALJ's consideration of Mawk's physical impairments, therefore the factual background will discuss only Mawk's mental impairments. Specifically, Mawk's mental health diagnoses include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”), PTSD, bipolar II, and avoidant personality disorder. Id. at 9.

         On July 7, 2013. Mawk underwent a psychiatric evaluation at Meridian Services due to having problems with sleep and fatigue throughout the day. (Filing No. 13-7 at 11.) She was diagnosed with Dysthymic Disorder and PTSD. Her treatment plan included weekly individual therapy for one hour per session, group therapy for up to three hours per session, and she was prescribed medication. (Filing No. 13-7 at 12.) Mawk was also assigned a global assessment of functioning (“GAF”) of 52. Id. At the time of the evaluation, Mawk had been going to therapy off and on for twenty years and was on antidepressants. (Filing No. 15 at 5.)

         On November 12, 2013, Dr. Kenneth McCoy (“Dr. McCoy”) saw Mawk for a consultative examination by a social security examiner. (Filing No. 13-7 at 54.) Mawk reported that her emotional distress was accompanied by dysphoria, fatigue, anhedonia, hopelessness, sleep disturbances, increased anxiety, excessive worry, racing thoughts, and irritability. Id. at 55. She also reported that she left her last job due to not being able to get out of bed and get to work due to her depression. Dr. McCoy noted that based on his mental status examination, Mawk's depression and attention problems may interfere with her ability to attend to a simple, repetitive task continuously for a two-hour period. Id. at 56. Dr. McCoy also noted that Mawk's working memory and serial ability were below average. Id. at 57. He diagnosed her mental impairments as PTSD and Major Depression, recurrent. Id. Dr. McCoy assigned Mawk a GAF of 65.

         Since 2012, Mawk has had ongoing issues with mental health treatment. (Filing No. 15 at 9.) Her symptoms include isolation, low motivation, forgetfulness, poor task completion, low self-esteem, distrust in relationships, socially inhibited, and sadness. Id. Even with ongoing therapy and medication, she still experiences anhedonia, thoughts of helplessness, hopelessness, crying spells, and an overall feeling of despair. Mawk's care plan includes several hours of weekly therapy sessions. (Filing No. 13-5 at 4-5.) Her symptoms fluctuate. At times she reports doing better, while at other times she becomes so panicked that she cannot drive to see her psychiatrist by herself. (Filing No. 15 at 9.)

         Carol Childress (“Childress”), Mawk's treating therapist who works under the supervision of Mawk's treating psychiatrist, completed a mental impairment questionnaire based on her treatment relationship of weekly therapy sessions with Mawk for over a year. Id. at 10. Childress noted that Mawk's diagnoses included: ADHD, PTSD, Avoidant Personality Disorder, and a prior diagnosis of Bipolar II. (Filing No. 13-14 at 73.) Mawk's psychiatric medications include Lamictal (100 mg), Concerta (54 mg), and Methylephenidate (10 mg). Childress' clinical findings indicated the severity of Mawk's mental impairments which include: significant trauma history which causes nightmares, reoccurring thoughts, changes in mood, persistent sadness, avoidance, and isolation. Id. Childress checked boxes identifying Mawk's symptoms which also included: recurrent and intrusive recollections of a traumatic experience which are a source of marked distress, paranoid thinking or inappropriate suspiciousness, easy distractibility, recurrent severe panic attacks manifested by a sudden unpredictable onset of intense apprehension, fear, terror, and sense of impending doom occurring on the average at least once a week, bipolar syndrome with a history of episodic periods manifested by the full symptomatic picture of both manic and depressive syndromes, and hyperactivity. (Filing No. 13-14 at 74.) Childress noted that Mawk is seriously limited, but not precluded from, responding appropriately to changes in a routine work setting. Under the category of “Unable to Meet Competitive Standards” Childress checked that Mawk cannot maintain attention for a two-hour segment; work in coordination with or proximity to others without being unduly distracted; complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms; or deal with normal work stress. Id. at 75.

         Childress explained in the “notes section” that Mawk's ADHD poses limitations with carelessness; difficulty with organization and sustaining attention in activities; poor task completion skills; and easily distractible. Id. As a result of Mawk's PTSD she tends to be hypervigilant, distrustful, isolating, and avoidant. Mawk is limited, but satisfactory with the ability to deal with the stress of semiskilled and skilled work and is unable to meet competitive standards with the ability to understand, remember, and carry out detailed instructions. Id. at 76. Clinical findings indicate that Mawk experiences varying degrees of marked and extreme difficulties in maintaining social functioning; extreme difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; and has experienced four or more episodes of decompensation within a twelve-month period, each of at least two weeks duration. Id. at 77. Childress noted that on average, Mawk would miss more than four days per month as a result of her impairments or treatment. Id. at 78.

         On November 21, 2013, State agency consultative psychological consultant Kenneth Neville, Ph.D. (“Dr. Neville”) evaluated Mawk. (Filing No. 13-3 at 7.) On January 24, 2014, State agency consultative psychological consultant Joelle Larsen, Ph.D. (“Dr. Larsen”) also evaluated Mawk. (Filing No. 13-3 at 29.) Both consultants opined that Mawk's mental disorders were non-severe and had only a mild effect on her ability ...

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