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Miele v. Berryhill

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

May 31, 2018

ANGELA MIELE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations for the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Susan E. Cox Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Angela Miele (“Plaintiff”) appeals the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her Title II disability benefits under the Social Security Act. The Parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons below, the Court remands this matter for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and Order. Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [dkt. 11] is granted; the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment [dkt. 13] is denied.

         I. Background

         a. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed an application disability benefits on July 2, 2013. [Administrative Record (“R”) 158-59.] Plaintiff alleged onset date of disability as of November 12, 2012. [R 158.] Plaintiff's date last insured (“DLI”) is December 31, 2013. [R 15.] Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration; Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing, held on March 3, 2016 before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Lee Lewin. [R 31-72.] Plaintiff was represented by counsel, and both a Medical Expert and a Vocational Expert testified. Id. On April 6, 2016, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff disability benefits. [R 15-24.] On March 22, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's appeal, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. [R 1-6.] Plaintiff filed the instant action on May 22, 2017. [dkt. 1.]

         b. Plaintiff's Background[1]

         Plaintiff alleges suffering from debilitating depression and anxiety following the 2012 death of her mother. [Dkt. 12, p. 1.] Prior to her mother's death, Plaintiff worked as a sales assistant for 18 years and as an account representative/manager for 5 years. [R 69-70, 200.] ¶ 2008, Plaintiff stopped working to become her mother's full-time caregiver, taking care of all of her mother's daily needs until her mother's death in October of 2012. [R 39-40, 401.]

         Plaintiff began treatment with her primary care doctor, Evangelos Biscotakis, M.D., on June 12, 2012, where she reported a 3-month history of gradually worsening depressive symptoms, including depressed mood, anhedonia, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, impaired memory, panic attacks, insomnia and poor energy. [R 298, 316.] Dr. Biscotakis reported that Plaintiff suffered from a marked degree of tearfulness and a marked degree of panic symptoms; Plaintiff was sad, depressed, anxious, and tearful. [R 298-99.] Dr. Biscotakis diagnosed Plaintiff with depression, anxiety, and abnormal grief response, and prescribed Plaintiff Paxil. Id.

         In a February 1, 2013 follow-up with Dr. Biscotakis, Plaintiff demonstrated a lack of improvement in her depression and anxiety, reporting that she was very nervous, miserable, and unable to go out with friends, and depressed due to her anxiety attacks. [R 305.] Dr. Biscotakis reported that Plaintiff was agitated and had an anxious and depressed mood. Id. Dr. Biscotakis prescribed Plaintiff Cymbalta instead of Paxil. Id. Although Dr. Biscotakis reported some symptom improvement on June 28, 2013 and January 28, 2014, Plaintiff continued to have symptoms of fatigue and anxiety, as well as problems with oversleeping, motivation, and decision-making. [R 340, 343.]

         Dr. Biscotakis completed a psychiatric report on August 12, 2013, noting that Plaintiff suffered from symptoms of depression and anxiety, including feeling down and sad due to uncontrolled anxiety and social phobia. [R 316-19.] Dr. Biscotakis reported that her problems had an effect on her ability to work, including being unable to focus, concentrate, and leave home without overwhelming anxiety and fear. Id. Dr. Biscotakis further reported that although Plaintiff would not have serious limitations in multiple areas of functioning, she would have serious limitations in her ability to perform work-related tasks on a sustained basis (an average day/week) without undue interruptions or distractions as well as serious limitations in her ability to perform tasks on an autonomous basis without direct step-by-step supervision and direction. [R 317-19.] Regarding whether Plaintiff would be able to respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and customary work pressure, Dr. Biscotakis responded that Plaintiff may feel overwhelming anxiety and panic attacks. [R 318.]

         On July 8, 2014 (approximately six months after Plaintiff's DLI), Dr. Biscotakis reported that Plaintiff suffered from severe anxiety and an element of PTSD from her mother's passing. [R 366.] Plaintiff was tearful, anxious, had rapid or pressured speech and inappropriate judgment, and she continued to be very uncomfortable outside of her home with recurrent thoughts of returning back home as soon as possible. Id.

         On August 28, 2014, Dr. Biscotakis reported that Plaintiff had difficulty sleeping due to racing thoughts and difficulty getting up in the morning. [R 369.] She suffered from palpitations and panic attacks around people, and an anxious mood was reported on examination. Id.

         On November 18, 2014, Dr. Biscotakis completed a mental capacities assessment. [R 352-53.] Dr. Biscotakis reported that Plaintiff had markedly limited ability to: deal with work stresses; perform reliably in job situations requiring the use of judgment under stress; respond appropriately to usual job situations with co-workers and supervisors; demonstrate reliability; and behave in a stable manner in stressful situations. Id. Dr. Biscotakis reported Plaintiff's diagnosis as anxiety with agoraphobia, and noted that dealing with people can be very stressful for Plaintiff, especially under stressful conditions. [R 353.] Dr. Biscotakis specifically noted that this assessment would be true as of November 12, 2012, Plaintiff's alleged onset date of disability. Id.

         On December 4, 2014, Dr. Biscotakis reported that Plaintiff's mood was anxious and that she continued to suffer from symptoms of severe anxiety including avoiding going out in public, avoiding spending time with friends, and difficulty focusing despite medication. [R 394-96.] On January 5, 2016, Dr. Biscotakis reported that Plaintiff's depression and anxiety continued to be inadequately controlled despite medication with significant symptoms of panic attacks, social isolation, crying spells, difficulty ...

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