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Grandel v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

May 21, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


SHEILA FINNEGAN, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Diana Lynn Grandel seeks to overturn the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 416, 423(d). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment. After careful review of the record, the Court now grants Plaintiff's motion and remands the case for further proceedings.


Plaintiff's last day of full-time work was March 8, 2009. (R. 77; 496; 518). She had been working since 2004 as a telemarketer selling insurance, but was let go. ( Id. ). She previously worked as a clerk in car dealerships and a sales clerk selling nutritional supplements, but was either fired from or quit those jobs due to mental breakdowns, anxiety attacks, paranoia or seizures at work. (R. 68; 77; 496; 518). Plaintiff reported living alone; after several suicide attempts, a court found her mentally unfit to care for her daughter (who was being raised by Plaintiff's brother and sister-in-law). (R. 41; 51).

Plaintiff filed her initial application for DIB on October 1, 2009, alleging disability beginning March 8, 2009. (R. 19; 101). After the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's claim initially and upon reconsideration, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Janice M. Bruning held a June 13, 2011 hearing, attended by Plaintiff and her attorney. (R. 73; 108-118; 137-140; 144-146). In the ALJ's subsequent August 3, 2011 decision, she determined that Plaintiff's last date insured for DIB purposes was June 30, 2011, and that Plaintiff was not disabled on or before that date. (R. 108-118). On April 19, 2012, the Appeals Counsel remanded Plaintiff's case back to the ALJ for reconsideration, in part because it found her date last insured is December 31, 2014 (not June 30, 2011). (R. 128-133). The Appeals Counsel also required the ALJ to reconsider the severity of Plaintiff's combined impairments, stating it was "not convinced" that the limitations the ALJ found were "an accurate reflection of [Plaintiff's] level of functioning." (R. 130-31). The ALJ then held a second hearing on October 3, 2012, at which Plaintiff (who was represented by counsel), a medical expert, and a vocational expert testified. (R. 37-72).

In the ALJ's decision dated November 26, 2012, she found Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: seizure disorder with postictal headaches, major depressive disorder (recurrent), generalized anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, and alcohol abuse disorder. (R. 22). The ALJ rejected the opinions of Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist and therapist that her impairments made her unable to function in a full-time job. (R. 26). Instead, the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of unskilled work with certain workplace limitations, including no public contact and only occasional contact with co-workers and supervisors. (R. 27-28). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled from March 8, 2009 through the date of her November 26, 2012 decision. (R. 28). On December 4, 2012, Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Counsel review the ALJ's second decision, but the Appeals Counsel denied Plaintiff's request on January 31, 2013. (R. 1-5; 14).

Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's November 26, 2012 decision, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. In support of her motion, Plaintiff argues that: (1) the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinions of her treating psychiatrist and therapist that she cannot work full-time; (2) the ALJ failed to account for limitations caused by Plaintiff's seizure disorder with postictal headaches, severe mental impairments, and moderate difficulties maintaining concentration, persistence and pace, resulting in a flawed RFC; and, (3) the flawed RFC led to incomplete hypothetical questions to the VE, compromising the vocational testimony.


A. Standard of Review

The ALJ's decision will be upheld "so long as it is supported by substantial evidence' and the ALJ built an accurate and logical bridge' between the evidence and her conclusion." Thomas v. Colvin, 745 F.3d 802, 806 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Simila v. Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 513 (7th Cir. 2009)). An ALJ need not mention every piece of evidence in her opinion, as long as she does not ignore an entire line of evidence that is contrary to her conclusion. Id. (citing Arnett v. Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592 (7th Cir. 2012)). Although the Court will not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ, a decision that "lacks adequate discussion of the issues will be remanded." Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1121 (7th Cir. 2014) (citations omitted).

B. Opinion of Therapist Kathleen Daly

Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's rejection of therapist Kathleen Daly's April 22, 2011 opinion that Plaintiff could not work full-time, as set forth in her "Report by Case Manager or Therapist." (Doc. 12, at 12-13; Doc. 21, at 1-4). Plaintiff admits that the ALJ appropriately found Ms. Daly, a therapist, is not an "acceptable medical source" under the regulations, but rather is an "other medical source" whose opinion is not entitled to "controlling weight." ( Id. ). See also Phillips v. Astrue, 413 F.Appx. 878, 884 (7th Cir. 2010) ("other medical sources" cannot be characterized as "treating sources, " and their findings cannot "establish the existence of a medically determinable impairment") (quoting SSR 06-03p, 2006 WL 2329939, at *2 (Aug. 9, 2006)).

Nevertheless, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by failing to determine the weight of Ms. Daly's opinion by considering the applicable factors in the regulations for evaluating other medical sources. (Doc. 12, at 12-13; Doc. 21, at 3-4). See also Philips, 413 F.Appx. at 884 (in deciding how much weight to give the opinions from other medical sources, the ALJ should apply the same criteria listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527 for evaluating medical opinions from acceptable medical sources). These factors include "the length, nature, and extent of the treatment relationship, frequency of examination, the physician's specialty, the types of tests performed, and the consistency and supportability of the physician's opinion." Scott v. Astrue, 647 F.3d 734 (quoting Moss v. Astrue, 555 F.3d 556, 561 (7th Cir. 2009)). The ALJ explained that she rejected Ms. Daly's assessment because: her report was written over five months after the last time Ms. Daly treated Plaintiff; Plaintiff appeared to be seeking "medication management" rather than counseling; and Ms. Daly's report appeared to merely recite Plaintiff's own assessment of her symptoms. (R. 26).

The record supports the ALJ's explanation and conclusions regarding her consideration of this evidence. Ms. Daly's report explicitly states that the therapist last saw Plaintiff on November 8, 2010, but then wrote the report over five months later, on April 22, 2011. (R. 1098-99). Ms. Daly also wrote in her report that Plaintiff did not "seek out treatment for counseling" but rather sought "case management for benefits" and "medication." (R. 1098-99.). Ms. Daly's treatment notes also indicate that several meetings between ...

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