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COLLINS v. BARNHART

August 9, 2004.

Shirley J. COLLINS, Plaintiff,
v.
Jo Anne B. BARNHART, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ARLANDER KEYS, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Shirley Collins, moves this Court for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to reverse the final decision of Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"), which denied her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). In the alternative, Plaintiff asks the Court to reverse the Commissioner's denial of her claim for benefits, or remand the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings. The Commissioner has filed a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment, which requests this Court to affirm its final decision. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion is denied and the Commissioner's Cross-motion is granted. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On February 4, 2000, Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI claiming that, as of September 30, 1999, she was unable to work because of depression and a lump in her breast. (R. at 119-121, 270-272.) The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied her claim initially on April 3, 2000, and upon reconsideration on August 11, 2000. (R. at 94-97, 99-101.) Plaintiff requested a hearing and her case was assigned to Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Michael R. McGuire, who held the hearing on July 9, 2001. (R. at 28.) The ALJ issued his decision on July 23, 2001, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled and denying her claim for benefits. (R. at 26-27.)

  The ALJ's decision became the final agency decision when the Appeals Council denied review on April 4, 2003. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481. As a result, the ALJ's decision stands as the final judgment of the Commissioner, and is now the subject of the motions before the Court.

  STATEMENT OF FACTS

  A. Evidence Presented At Plaintiff's Hearing

  1. Plaintiff's Testimony

  At the hearing before the ALJ, Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified first. In response to questions from the ALJ, Plaintiff testified that she is 5'3 ½" tall and weighs approximately 217 pounds, and that she is single and lives in an apartment with her youngest son. (R. at 39-40.) Plaintiff testified that her oldest son is serving a sentence in prison. (R. at 50.) Plaintiff testified that she completed the tenth grade, but had failed to obtain a General Equivalency Diploma ("GED"), despite three separate attempts. (R. at 76, 78.) Plaintiff testified that she still hopes to obtain a GED. (R. at 83.)

  With respect to her past work experience, Plaintiff testified that, for approximately seven months in 1986, she was an inspector for a company that made caps and gowns. (R. at 42.) After leaving her job as a cap and gown inspector in 1987, Plaintiff went to work as a meter operator. (Id.) She testified that the job involved putting prices on mail and operating a postage meter. (R. at 42-43.) While working as a meter operator, Plaintiff testified that she also tried being a homemaker for elderly people for one month in 1998. (R. at 43.) Plaintiff testified that corporate down-sizing forced her to leave her meter operator job. (R. at 46.) Plaintiff testified that, prior to the down-sizing, her emotional problems had started to interfere with her work, and that she had contemplated leaving the company. (Id.) She explained that her emotional problems began when her oldest son started getting into trouble with the law and her father died. (R. at 65.) Plaintiff testified that it was at this point that she started putting the wrong prices on mail. (R. at 66.) When questioned further on the circumstances surrounding the down-sizing, Plaintiff later testified that a few days before she left the company, she was involved in an altercation with a co-worker, threatening her co-worker with physical violence. (R. at 67.) Plaintiff testified that the day after this dispute, her supervisor called her into his office and told her that she had to leave the company. (R. at 67-68.)

  With respect to her impairments, Plaintiff testified that she is depressed. (R. at 47.) She testified that she sometimes likes who she is, but not most of the time. (R. at 48.) Plaintiff testified that she sometimes wishes that she could just start all over again. (Id.) Plaintiff testified that she has been seeing Dr. Gregory Davis once a week in a group therapy setting, and seeing Dr. Clay every two or three months. (R. at 46.) Plaintiff testified that she thinks she is getting better, except for the times when she gets angry. (R. at 47.) She testified that she gets angry when her son writes her letters from prison saying she is not doing enough for him. (R. at 50.) Plaintiff testified that her son's letters sometimes upset her so much that she locks herself in her room for a couple of days until she calms down. (Id.) She also testified that when she gets upset, she gets headaches. (Id.) Plaintiff testified that she has memory problems, and that these problems interfere with her ability to do housework. (R. at 55.) She testified that other people think she is mean, and she thinks "spells" cause her meanness. (R. at 48.) Plaintiff testified that she is currently taking Zoloft, Trazodone, and Risperdal, but that she occasionally forgets to take her medications. (R. at 81, 84.) Plaintiff testified that she sometimes hears voices calling her name. (R. at 84.) She testified that she used to have suicidal thoughts, but has not had any in the last year. (R. at 85.) Plaintiff testified that she thinks she has a bad attitude and does not want to start working until she gets better. (R. at 83.)

  With respect to her daily activities, Plaintiff testified that she spends her time sitting around watching television. (R. at 63.) She testified that she does not like to read because she cannot comprehend what she is reading. (R. at 60.) She testified that her fourteen-year-old son spends all his time with his friends, so they do not do anything together. (R. at 57.) Plaintiff testified that she is not active in her son's school or any other organization. (Id.) She testified that her son cooks for her sometimes and helps around the house by doing the laundry and the shopping. (R. at 61-63.) Plaintiff testified that she cooks and cleans only when she has the energy to do it. (R. at 60-61.) She testified that she occasionally tries to walk three or four blocks. (R. at 64.) Plaintiff testified that she runs into people she knows on these walks, but she does not stand around talking to them because they deal drugs. (Id.) She testified that she used to be friendly with the people she worked with, but now that she no longer has a job, she never sees her old co-workers. (R. at 51.) She testified that she does not have any female friends, except for an elderly woman who lives in her neighborhood. (R. at 52.) Plaintiff testified that she has some male friends who she has known since grammar school and high school. (R. at 53.) Plaintiff testified that she has a boyfriend who is married to another woman, and that they see each other about every two weeks. (R. at 55.)

  2. Vocational Expert's Testimony

  After Plaintiff testified, the ALJ heard from Michelle Peters, a vocational expert ("VE"). (R. at 85.) The ALJ asked VE Peters how she would characterize Plaintiff's past work. (R. at 86.) VE Peters testified that she considered Plaintiff's inspector and meter operator positions to be unskilled in nature and light in physical demand (Id.) She testified that she considered the homemaker positions to be low-end, semi-skilled in nature and light in physical demand (Id.) The ALJ then asked VE Peters whether an individual of Plaintiff's age, education, and vocational background, who has no exertional impairments, who is limited to performing simple one, two, or three step tasks, and who should avoid contact with the public and have only limited contact with co-workers and supervisors, was capable of performing her past work. (R. at 85-86.) VE Peters testified that such an individual could work as an inspector and meter operator. (R. at 86.) VE Peters further testified that these positions require work to be done in a timely manner, and that an individual working in these positions probably cannot be absent more than once a month. (R. at 88-89.)

  3. Medical Evidence

  In addition to the testimony given by Plaintiff and VE Peters, the ALJ considered medical records documenting Plaintiff's impairments.

  a. Dr. Dizon-SSA Examining Physician

  On July 18, 2000, Dr. Elouisa Dizon performed a psychiatric evaluation of Plaintiff for the SSA. (R. at 217.) Dr. Dizon diagnosed Plaintiff as suffering from major depressive disorder. (R. at 220.) In her report, she noted that Plaintiff had trouble sleeping, heard voices, and was argumentative. (R. at 217.) Dr. Dizon also noted that Plaintiff was fatigued and uninterested in doing anything. (R. at 218.) Even though she diagnosed her as suffering from major depressive disorder, Dr. Dizon observed that Plaintiff did not appear depressed at the ...


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