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William F. Collins, Iii v. Michael J. Astrue

December 16, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Young B. Kim


William F. Collins, III, applied for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423(d), claiming that his anxiety, panic disorder, and obesity preclude him from working. An administrative law judge ("ALJ") concluded that Collins' impairments are severe but not disabling. The ALJ denied Collins' application for benefits-a decision Collins is challenging in the current motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the motion is granted:

Procedural History

Collins applied for DIB in July 2007 claiming that his disability began on April 27, 2006. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 168.)*fn1 The Commissioner denied his claims initially and on reconsideration. (Id. at 70-80.) Collins then requested, and was granted, a hearing before an ALJ. (Id. at 81-82.) The ALJ scheduled the hearing for December 21, 2009, but Collins failed to appear. (Id. at 19.) In response to an order to show cause, Collins appeared for a hearing on March 3, 2010. (Id.) The ALJ concluded that Collins had two severe impairments-obesity and an anxiety related disorder-but was not "disabled" as defined by the Social Security Act and denied his claims for DIB. (Id. at 19-29.) When the Appeals Council denied review, (id. at 6-8), the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. See Schmidt v. Astrue, 496 F.3d 833, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). Collins then filed the current suit seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this court. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).


Collins worked as a journeyman insulator from 1992 through April 2006, (A.R. 247), when he was laid off from work due to absenteeism caused by his panic attacks, (id. at 52). He claims that it is nearly impossible for him to enter a public place due to his anxiety and agoraphobia. (Id. at 91.) He ventures outside his home for visits to the grocery store at odd hours, when it is least crowded, and even then, has been forced to leave the store on occasion due to panic attacks. (Id. at 57-58.) Collins claims that his anxiety and agoraphobia have destroyed his social life, (id. at 244), interfered with his concentration, (id. at 265, 281), and rendered him unable to work since April 2006, (id. at 168). Collins failed to appear before the ALJ for his initially scheduled hearing because he was overwhelmed by shaking and sweating due to agoraphobia. (Id. at 129-31.) Collins appeared before the ALJ at a subsequent hearing, where he introduced both documentary and testimonial evidence in support of his claims.

A. Medical Evidence

The record reveals that Collins first sought medical help for anxiety and depression from Dr. Paul Panzica on February 21, 2003. (A.R. 332, 373.) At that visit, Collins reported two years marked by anxiety and depression, poor concentration, and a history of anxiety attacks in public, which he described as feeling light-headed, dizzy, and jittery. (Id.) Dr Panzica prescribed Paxil, Inderal, and Xanax to alleviate the symptoms. (Id.) When Collins visited Dr. Panzica a month later, Dr. Panzica noted that with medication Collins was "doing much better" and that the panic, anxiety, and depression were "stable." (Id. at 331.)

Collins returned to Dr. Panzica three months later in June 2003 for a follow-up appointment for his anxiety. (Id. at 330.) Dr. Panzica noted that Collins was "unable to work due to panic," specifically, that Collins had attempted to start a new job but "could not make it thur [sic] [the] front door" despite anxiety medications. (Id.) Dr. Panzica increased Collins' dosage for Inderal and Paxil and remarked that Collins' anxiety, depression, and panic were poorly controlled. (Id.) The next month, Collins saw Dr. Panzica for sharp chest pain, but the cardiac tests were normal, (id. at 386), and the diagnosis was anxiety, (id. at 370).

Four months later, in October 2003, Dr. Panzica noted that Collins' anxiety and panic attacks were adequately controlled and that Collins presented with "no anxiety, no agitation, no depressed affect." (Id. at 325-26.) Again, in May 2004, Dr. Panzica indicated that Collins' anxiety and panic were controlled and continued his medication. (Id. at 324.) Three months later, Dr. Panzica again remarked that Collins' anxiety was well-controlled on medication. (Id. at 323.)

However, by December 2005, Collins' symptoms had worsened. He returned to Dr. Panzica and complained of panic attacks, depressed mood, and impaired concentration. (Id. at 321.) Collins smelled of stale alcohol at the visit but his emotional state was assessed as normal. (Id.) Dr. Panzica continued Collins' Paxil prescription and noted that his anxiety and panic were marginally controlled. (Id.)

Collins filed a disability report with an SSA field office in July 2007. (Id. at 237-45.) He asserted that his anxiety hampered his concentration and caused him to take numerous sick days, ultimately resulting in termination from employment. (Id. at 238.) He also explained that his anxiety had been a barrier to treatment-he had stopped taking his medications because his prescription expired and he "couldn't make it in to see the Dr [sic] because of anxiety." (Id. at 244.) He mentioned that he could no longer afford the medication and doubted its efficacy. (Id. at 244.)

Erwin Baukus, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, evaluated Collins in October 2007. (Id. at 389-93.) Collins drove himself to Dr. Baukus' office and remained with him for 1.2 hours. (Id. at 389.) Dr. Baukus noted that Collins "had a tremor and his hands were cold with clammy palms," and described Collins' mood as anxious, but stated that "[c]omfortable rapport was established and maintained . . . throughout the examination." (Id. at 389-91.) Collins indicated that he had ceased taking medication. (Id. at 390.) He mentioned that he shopped for his own groceries but "does not get out to visit friends or family and visitors seldom come to see him at his residence." (Id. at 391.) Dr. Baukus diagnosed Collins with panic disorder and agoraphobia, which he characterized as "moderate," noting that Collins is "usually able to stay calm enough to shop for groceries (and beer) by going at odd times when he is the only customer in the store." (Id. at 392-93.)

Following Dr. Baukus' report, SSA medical reviewer Jerrold Heinrich, Ph.D., a psychologist, analyzed Collins' case and assessed his residual functional capacity. (Id. at 397-414.) In his November 2007 report, Dr. Heinrich opined that Collins suffered from panic disorder with agoraphobia but that his symptoms did not satisfy the diagnostic criteria of Listing 12.06A, entitled "Anxiety-Related Disorders." (Id. at 402); see also 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Sbpt. P, Appendix 1, Listing 12.06. Regarding the "B" criteria of Listing 12.06, Dr. Heinrich indicated that Collins had a mild restriction of activities of daily living, a moderate difficulty in maintaining social functioning, moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace, and one or two episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration. (Id. at 407.) None of these functional limitations met the "degree of limitation that satisfies the functional criterion" of Listing 12.06B. (See id. at 407.) Dr. Heinrich also opined that the medical evidence did not establish the presence of the 12.06(C) criterion. (Id. at 408.) He noted that Collins is able to drive and can go grocery shopping at a relatively empty store, but does not interact with people or socialize. (Id. at 409). Dr. Heinrich's residual functional capacity assessment indicated that he found Collins' "report and presentation [to be] credible," that he "needs a low-stress job," and "lacks the emotional temperament to cope with frequent interactions with others or working among large groups." Lastly, Dr. Heinrich noted that Collins "can not cope with on the job travel." (Id. at 413.) This evaluation was affirmed in April 2008 by a consultant retained by the state disability agency. (Id. at 415-17.)

Collins visited Dr. Panzica again in January 2008 after a two-year break in treatment. At that visit, Collins presented with stomach pain and a "blunted" emotional affect. (Id. at 360.) Dr. Panzica noted that Collins' panic was marginally controlled and prescribed Fluoxetine for panic and Lorazepam for anxiety. (Id. at 361.) That month, Collins informed the SSA that his panic attacks had "become more frequent and have lasted for a longer duration. My ability to concentrate is becoming worse." (Id. at 274.) The next month, Collins informed SSA that his anxiety caused him to become confused during conversations and had caused a panic attack at Dr. Panzica's office. (Id. at 282-89.)

Collins visited Dr. Panzica again in March 2008 for a physical and evaluation for disability benefits. (Id. at 354.) Dr. Panzica noted that Collins was "still severely impaired due to panic and agoraphobia," that he took two tablets of Lorazepam before the visit, and that he presented with an emotionally stable, mildly anxious emotional state. (Id.) Dr. Panzica's treatment notes characterized Collins' agoraphobia as poorly controlled and his panic as marginally controlled. (Id. at 355.) Dr. Panzica referred to these treatment notes in a March 24, 2008 psychiatric report that he completed for the state disability agency, wherein he diagnosed Collins as suffering from panic and agoraphobia and stated that Collins is "unable to sustain a physical presence ...

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