United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JEFFREY COLE, Magistrate Judge.
The plaintiff, Manique Mason, seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner ("Commissioner") of the Social Security Administration ("Agency") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"). 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). Ms. Mason asks the court to reverse and remand the Commissioner's decision, while the Commissioner seeks an order affirming the decision.
Ms. Mason applied for SSI on December 10, 2007, alleging that she had become disabled on April 15, 2001(Administrative Record ("R.") 133-35), but later changed that allegation to October 6, 2006 (R. 143), and claimed she was unable to work due to bipolar depression, which made her unable to be around people, concentrate, or relax. (R. 147). Her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. 76-85). Ms. Mason continued pursuit of her claim by filing a timely request for hearing. (R. 87-89).
An administrative law judge ("ALJ") convened a hearing on May 17, 2010, at which Ms. Mason, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. (R. 25-52). In addition, Edward Pagella testified as a vocational expert. (R. 46). On October 22, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Ms. Mason was not disabled because she retained the capacity to perform light work that involved simple routine tasks, no more than occasional interaction with the general public, and that allowed her to be off task 15% of the time and miss 1- days a month. (R. 60-68). This became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Ms. Mason's request for review of the decision on February 22, 2012. (R. 14-18). See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955; 404.981. Ms. Mason has appealed that decision to the federal district court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).
THE EVIDENCE OF RECORD
The Vocational Evidence
Ms. Mason was born on December 9, 1977, making her thirty-two years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R. 133). She has a high school education, and a brief and sporadic work history of about four years her entire life. She moved from job to job from 1997 to 2000 (R. 148, 151), and briefly worked again in 2005. (R. 178).
The Medical Evidence
There is precious little medical evidence in the record that would suggest Ms. Mason is unable to perform any work. Even she can cite just seven scant pages of medical evidence she feels support her claim in her brief. ( Plaintiff's Brief, at 1-2). The bulk of the record pertains to her recovery from a broken, non-dominant, left arm she suffered in July 2008. (R. 31, 227-268). Her course of treatment was uneventful and she healed as expected. (R. 264-68). If the episode is of any relevance to Ms. Mason's claim it is because of the varying accounts of her injury she gave her treating physicians. On one occasion, she said she was merely a pedestrian hit by a car. (R. 233). On another, she related that she had been in a car chase and was struck by the vehicle pursuing her from behind, noticing her broken arm when she got out of her car. (R. 232).
The evidence pertaining to her depression reveals that she sought treatment at Stroger County Hospital now and again over the course of a few years from late 2002 to 2007. Over those five or six years, she sought treatment just nine times, and none of the mental health professionals who saw her gave any indication that she was restricted from working to any degree. Generally, all of these visits were occasioned by Ms. Mason needing refills of her medications. In November 2003, Ms. Mason reported going off her medications because she thought she felt better and she wanted to lose weight. But, this resulted in racing thoughts, trouble sleeping, and an inability to concentrate. Her affect was normal, her speech was normal, her thoughts were logical, and her insight was intact. She was placed back on her medications - Depakote, Zoloft, and Ambien. (R. 219).
On January 30, 2004, Ms. Mason returned to County Hospital to have her medications changed. She was experiencing racing thoughts and anxiety. She had no suicidal thoughts or depressed mood. She did think people were talking about her. Her insight and judgment were noted to be fair and she was mildly agitated, anxious, and irritable. Her Depakote and Ambien were increased, her Zoloft was continued, and Klonipin was added to her regimen. (R. 218).
Ms. Mason sought no further treatment until July 19, 2004, when she reported being depressed over the death of her boyfriend, who had been shot a week earlier. Prior to that, she had been doing well. Her affect was noted to be depressed but appropriate. Her medications were continued. (R. 217).
Ms. Mason returned to Stroger County Hospital two months later, and said her medication was working, although she had been off it for a month. Her mood was okay, her affect was normal, and thought process was linear. Insight and judgment were intact. (R. 216). At her next visit, she reported she was okay although she had been off her medications for two weeks. Her mood was noted to be euthymic and her insight fair. (R. 215).
In January of 2006, Ms. Mason found out she was pregnant and had to go off her medications. She was ambivalent about the pregnancy. Her mood and thoughts were normal, and her insight was fair. (R. 214). On May 3, 2006, Ms. Mason went to Stroger County Hospital seeking medication. She had been off her regimen because she had been pregnant but, as she had an abortion, she wanted to go back on them again. She felt relaxed with them. Her mood was euthymic, her speech was normal, and her thoughts were goal-oriented and logical.
Ms. Mason reported she was feeling okay and looking for work on August 10, 2006. She complained about gaining weight, but was doing well on her medications. Her attitude was positive and her insight was fair. (R. 212). On September 24, 2006, she went in to Stroger County Hospital for a medication refill, complaining of being depressed. She said she couldn't work because her concentration was poor. She was alert and oriented and had good eye contact. She denied any thoughts about suicide. (R. 209).
On March 19, 2007, Ms. Mason said she was depressed and not sleeping well. She claimed she couldn't hold a job because she was easily distracted. She admitted to drinking and admitted as well that it contributed to her depressed mood. She was instructed to decrease her alcohol use. She was also told to exercise. There was no suicidal ideation or paranoia. (R. 211). On May 9, 2007, Ms. Mason reported she was feeling better, sleeping well, and her mood was stable. (R. 210).
On April 2, 2008, Ms. Mason had a consultative psychological examination arranged by the state disability agency. She told Dr. Robert Neufeld that she had an associates's degree from Robert Morris College and worked as a phlebotomist for six months. (R. 204). She was fired for bossing people around. Ms. Mason explained that she used to be a "party animal" but since her boyfriend died in 2006, she did little partying. She was always tired and layed down most of the day. (R. 204). Upon examination, her attitude was cooperative, her thoughts were logical, and her speech was well-conceptualized and articulated. She was oriented and her memory was fine. Her abstract thinking was normal, but her fund of general knowledge was deficient. She said she didn't know who Martin Luther King was or the number of weeks in a year. Her judgment was fair. She knew to mail a letter she found, and that eating raw meat would make her sick. If she were lost in a forest, she would retrace her steps. (R. 205).
Dr. Neufeld diagnosed Ms. Mason with adjustment disorder with depressed mood and avoidance personality disorder. (R. 205). He assigned her a Global Assessment of Functioning score of 65 (R. 205), denoting "[s]ome mild symptoms ( e.g., depressed mood and mild insomnia) or some difficulty in social, occupational, or school functioning ( e.g., occasional truancy, or theft within the household), but generally functioning pretty well, has some meaningful interpersonal relationships." http://www.gafscore.com/ (emphasis supplied).
Dr. Elizabeth Kuester, M.D., reviewed the evidence at this point and found Ms. Mason had some moderate limitations in her ability to carry out and remember detailed instructions, maintain concentration for extended periods, deal with the general public, and set realistic goals. (R. 200-201). She was not significantly limited in other areas, including carrying out and remembering simple instructions, dealing with coworkers, or responding appropriately to supervisors. (R. 200-201).
Ms. Mason sought no further treatment until April of 2010. She had moved to Virginia for two years. She stopped refilling her prescriptions, instead taking her mother's medications. She said her own medication had never helped her but her mother's did. Still she said she was nervous, irritable, and had racing thoughts. She denied using drugs or alcohol. She was hoping to get SSI, but explained that in the meantime, she was working as a "prostitute for money." (R. 271). Upon examination, it was noted that her insight and judgment were good, her attention and concentration were good, and she exhibited no suicidal ideation. (R. 272).
The Administrative Hearing ...