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Shirley Golden v. Michael J. Astrue

August 14, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sara Darrow United States District Judge

E-FILED Tuesday, 14 August, 2012 11:52:42 AM Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD


This matter is now before the Court on Plaintiff Shirley Golden's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 8) and the Social Security Administration ("SSA") Commissioner's Motion for Summary Affirmance (ECF No. 12). The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision was clearly erroneous because the ALJ failed to consider the proper factors when assessing her credibility and that the ALJ's Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") determination was not supported by substantial evidence. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, DENIES Defendant's Motion for Summary Affirmance, and REMANDS the case to the Administrative Law Judge for further proceedings consistent with this order.


This case was brought by Shirley Golden ("Golden") on November 15, 2010, challenging the SSA's determination that she was not disabled and, accordingly, not entitled to benefits. At the time of the SSA's administrative hearing on October 20, 2009, Golden was fifty-five years old. (See Social Security Transcript (the "Record," hereinafter "R.") at 28-30, ECF No. 5.) She had completed one year of college in 1993. (R. at 124.) She last worked as a telemarketer in the early 1990s. (R. at 135, 184.)

Golden applied for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") with the SSA on December 15, 2006, alleging a disability onset date of May 18, 2004. (R. at 46-47.) In her initial Disability Report, Golden alleged that she suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. (R. at 121.) Because of these illnesses, she had not worked for the past several years. (R. at 121.) When asked about her daily activities, Golden noted that she watched television or looked out the window. (R. at 126.) She stated that she needed daily reminders to bathe and get dressed. (R. at 127-28.) She also stated she was unable to go outside and had difficulty sleeping. (Id.) Finally, Golden noted that her illnesses affected her ability to stand, memory, ability to complete tasks, concentration, understanding, ability to follow instructions, and use of her hands. (R. at 131.)

As part of her application, Golden's mental and physical capabilities were evaluated by trained medical professionals. Golden's first relevant examination occurred on January 8, 2007, when Senior Psychological Examiner Perry Adams ("Adams") conducted a consultative examination. (R. at 184-188.) Adams noted that no medical or psychological data was provided before his evaluation. (R. at 184.) Adams observed that Golden appeared to be "open and honest in her interactions" and that she provided a credible presentation of her symptoms. (R. at 187.) Her vocalizations were "clear and coherent" and her judgment and insight were "fair." (R. at 185.) Adams noted that Golden was not currently taking any medication. (R. at 185.) Golden reported she cried often and felt sad "all of the time." (R. at 186.) During the exam, Adams noticed that Golden appeared "quite uncomfortable" and exhibited psychomotor retardation, mild distress, and tearfulness. (R. at 186.) Adams diagnosed Golden with Bipolar Disorder and concluded that she suffered from moderate limitations in understanding and remembering, moderate limitations in adapting to change, severe limitations in sustaining concentration and persistence, and severe limitations interacting with others. (R. at 187.)

Golden's records were then reviewed by Dr. Frank D. Kupstas, who, on February 23, 2007, filed a Psychiatric Review Technique Form ("PRTF") of Golden.*fn1 (R. at 189-205.) Dr. Kupstas provided an assessment of Golden's functional limitations, concluding that she was moderately limited in performing activities of daily living, social functioning, and maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. (R. at 199.) Dr. Kupstas concluded that Golden was only moderately limited based, in part, on the fact that Golden was able to attend to her personal hygiene, watch television, perform light household chores, attend church, create a budget, shop with others, and fill out her own SSI application. (R. at 201.)

Golden's claim was first denied on March 8, 2007. (R. at 48-51.) Golden sought reconsideration on April 17, 2007, but the claim was again denied. (R. at 52-56.) Thereafter, on July 30, 2007, Golden visited her treating physician, Dr. Robert Lawton, and underwent another psychiatric evaluation. (R. at 217.) During the evaluation, Golden reported periods of depression, difficulty sleeping, and occasional periods of excessive energy. (Id.) She also mentioned that she experienced thoughts or voices that she found difficult to dismiss. (Id.) Dr. Lawton observed that Golden recounted her story "in a credible fashion," but noted "mild psychomotor retardation." (Id.) He also found Golden to have "intact memory and concentration" while her judgment and insight were "fair." (R. at 218.) Ultimately, Dr. Lawton diagnosed Golden with Bipolar I Disorder. (Id.)

Golden appealed these denials and supported her appeal by updating the information in the record concerning her alleged disability by filing two disability reports using form SSA-3441. (R. at 143-49, 153-59.) In these reports, Golden provided additional assertions regarding her inability to concentrate and asserted that her disabilities had been further complicated by here recent development of diabetes. (R. at 144, 148, 157.) On November 20, 2007, as part of her appeal, Golden requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. (R. at 57.)

After initiating her appeal, Golden returned to Dr. Lawton twice more. (R. at 240.) On January 24, 2008, she reported more difficulty sleeping, increased depression, difficulty keeping track of time, and confusion. (Id.) Dr. Lawton noted that she asked him to fill out a form certifying her inability to work. (Id.) On March 10, 2008, Golden reported similar symptoms as before. (R. at 243.) However, Dr. Lawton noticed discrepancies in her medication reports which "suggested a certain lack of candor." (Id.) Dr. Lawton and Golden agreed to meet in six weeks to determine the effectiveness of her treatment, but Golden never responded to requests for treatment planning. (R. at 245.)

An administrative hearing was held on October 9, 2009, and Golden testified that she lived with her daughter and her three grandchildren. (R. at 30.) When asked whether she was able to take care of her personal hygiene needs, Golden responded, "[w]hen I remember." (R. at 34.) She later testified that her daughter and granddaughter cook, clean, and take care of her, noting that they leave notes around the house to remind her of appointments. (R. at 37.) Golden stated she left the house "maybe twice" a month in order to attend doctor appointments, but otherwise was prone to panic attacks. (Id.) Throughout the hearing, Golden testified that she experienced nervousness around other people and felt uncomfortable going outside of her apartment. (R. at 33.) She also experienced confusion, often forgetting or losing track of time. (Id.) Later, Golden testified she suffered from debilitating headaches on a daily basis. (R. at 34-35.) She stated that she suffered from diabetes and her blood sugar remained out of control. (R. at 35-36.)

On January 25, 2010, the ALJ determined that Golden did not meet the criteria of disability set forth in § 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act and was therefore ineligible for SSI. (R. at 9.) The ALJ found that Golden had two severe impairments: affective disorder and a history of substance abuse. (R. at 17.) The ALJ concluded, however, that Golden did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equals one listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926). (R. at 18.) After consideration of the entire record, the ALJ found that Golden had RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limits: jobs with limited to occasional contact with the public, co-workers, and supervisors; jobs with no more than average production quotas, and; jobs with little change in the job process. (R. at 18-19.) With this RFC assessment, the ALJ concluded Golden could perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. (R. at 21.)

Golden challenged the ALJ's decision and filed a Request for Review. (R. at 8.) On September 10, 2010, the Appeals Council denied review of Golden's claim and the ALJ's decision became the final decision in her case. (R. at 1-3.) Having ...

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