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Jennifer L. Smith v. Michael J. Astrue

November 22, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Susan E. CoX


Plaintiff Jennifer L. Smith ("plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act.*fn1 The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff seeks a judgment remanding defendant Commissioner Michael J. Astrue's ("defendant" or "Commissioner") denial of disability insurance benefits ("DIB") but affirming the Commissioner's decision that plaintiff is entitled to supplemental security income ("SSI"). The Commissioner seeks summary judgment affirming his decision in its entirety. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's motion is granted [dkts. 20, 22] and the Commissioner's motion is denied [dkt 23].

I. Procedural History

On September 14, 2005, plaintiff filed an application for SSI and DIB. Plaintiff alleged she was disabled as of December 31, 2001 because she suffered from a mood disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD").*fn2 The Commissioner denied plaintiff's claims for SSI and DIB on November 09, 2005.*fn3 On reconsideration, plaintiff's request was again denied on January 20, 2006.*fn4

On March 28, 2006, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ").*fn5 On May 16, 2008, an administrative hearing was held before ALJ John M. Wood.*fn6

On September 25, 2008, ALJ Wood issued a decision granting the plaintiff SSI and denying her DIB.*fn7 On November 28, 2008, plaintiff filed a request for review of ALJ Wood's decision with the Social Security Administration Appeals Council ("Appeals Council").*fn8 The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review.*fn9 Therefore, ALJ Wood's September 25, 2008 decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.*fn10 Plaintiff filed this action on September 1, 2010.*fn11

II. Factual Background

The record consists of medical evidence, a hearing transcript, and the ALJ's administrative opinion. We will briefly summarize each.

A. Medical Evidence

Medical documents contained in the record shows that plaintiff was first treated for mental health issues beginning in 1997 at Community Hospital in Ottawa, Illinois.*fn12 After being arrested for drinking at the age of fifteen, plaintiff was brought to the hospital on October 6, 1997 after stating that she had thought of killing herself.*fn13 While in the emergency room, plaintiff "became agitated and reportedly kicked at the ER staff."*fn14 Ultimately, she was diagnosed with alcohol abuse and acute alcohol intoxication.*fn15

On August 8, 2001, plaintiff began seeing John E. Podzamsky, D.O.*fn16 Dr. Podzamsky's treatment notes indicated that Dr. Podzamsky treated plaintiff on multiple occasions between August 8, 2001 and August 16, 2006.*fn17 Dr. Podzamsky indicated that plaintiff alternated taking 150 milligrams of Wellbutrin*fn18 and Prozac*fn19 between September 2001 and June 2003.*fn20 In January 2002, Dr. Podzamsky's notes indicated that plaintiff was suffering from depression and that all she wanted to do was sleep.*fn21 Also during this time period, Dr. Podzamsky's noted that plaintiff had symptoms that likely exhibited anxiety, dysthmetic disorder, and anger problems.*fn22

In March 2002, Dr. Podzamsky's noted that plaintiff was irritable and upset at everyone and that she lost jobs in the past due to her anger issues.*fn23

On November 9, 2005, a Psychiatric Review Technique was completed by Patricia Beers, Ph.D.*fn24 Dr. Beers did not examine plaintiff, but made her mental assessment based on the medical records.*fn25 Dr. Beers opined on plaintiff's limitations in various categories. According to Dr. Beers, plaintiff had mild restrictions of daily living, moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning, moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, and pace, and one or two episodes of decompensation.*fn26 Dr. Beers diagnosed plaintiff with posttraumatic stress disorder and mood disorder.*fn27

Also on November 9, 2005, Dr. Beers completed a Mental Residual Capacity Assessment.*fn28 The assessment required Dr. Beers to determine plaintiff's limitations in twenty categories.*fn29 For each category, Dr. Beers assessed whether plaintiff was "not significantly limited," "moderately limited," or "markedly limited."*fn30 For five of the categories, Dr. Beers marked "moderately limited."*fn31 For all other categories, Dr. Beers marked "not significantly limited."*fn32

In August 2006, Yung S. Chung, M.D. examined plaintiff and reported that plaintiff was depressed, but no longer had issues with anxiety or dysthymic disorder.*fn33 Dr. Chung prescribed plaintiff 150 milligrams of Wellbutrin.*fn34 Dr. Chung also noted that plaintiff suffered from depression for the last nine years, off and on with varying severity.*fn35

Finally, on September 5, 2008, Mark Langgut, Ph.D. completed a consultive examination.*fn36 Dr. Langgut spent fifty-five minutes with plaintiff and completed an Consultive Examination Report on September 7, 2008.*fn37 He also completed an addendum to that report on September 9, 2008.*fn38 Of note, Dr. Langgut found that plaintiff had marked limitations in interacting appropriately with the public, supervisors, and co-workers.*fn39 He also found mild limitations in plaintiff's ability to "respond appropriately to usual work situations and to changes in a routine work setting."*fn40 Dr. Langgut concluded that plaintiff suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder and bipolar II, without psychotic symptoms.*fn41 However, Dr. Langgut did not indicate a date when he believed these symptoms or conditions began.*fn42

B. May 16, 2008 Hearing

Plaintiff's administrative hearing took place on May 16, 2008 in Peru, Illinois.*fn43 Plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert ("VE"), Ronald Malik, testified at the hearing.*fn44

Plaintiff testified that she is married and has three children, ages four, five and nine.*fn45

Plaintiff stated that she is able to drive, but that she never leaves the house without her husband.*fn46 Outside of her immediate family, the only other family members plaintiff interacted with was her aunt, who visited plaintiff at home once a week.*fn47 Plaintiff stated that she only leaves the house to go grocery shopping or to attend doctors' appointments.*fn48 ...

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