United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Jeffrey Cummings, United States Magistrate Judge
Carolyn S. (“Claimant”) brings a motion for summary
judgment to reverse the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner”) that denied her
application for a period of disability and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) under the Social Security
Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 402(e), and 423. The
Commissioner has brought a cross-motion for summary judgment
seeking to uphold the Social Security Agency's
(“SSA”) decision finding that Claimant is not
disabled. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of
the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c). This Court has jurisdiction to hear this
matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
138(c)(3). For the reasons stated below, Claimant's
motion for summary judgment  is granted and the
Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment  is
August 20, 2015, Claimant filed a disability application
alleging a disability onset date of April 14, 2015. Her claim
was denied initially and upon reconsideration. On January 2,
2018, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued
a written decision denying benefits to Claimant. The Appeals
Council denied review on November 17, 2018, making the
ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. 20
C.F.R. § 404.985(d); see also Zurawski v.
Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 883 (7th Cir. 2001). Claimant
subsequently filed this action in District Court on January
Evidence from Claimant's Treatment History
began treatment for bipolar disorder with psychiatrist Dr.
Erich DeCastro in 1999. (R. 575). The earliest record entry,
however, is an October 7, 2011 treatment note from
psychotherapist Dr. Stephan Romm who treated Claimant at Dr.
DeCastro's request. Dr. Romm noted that Claimant was
“more or less stable” on medications that
included Zoloft, Lamictal, and Seroquel but that she could be
easily overwhelmed “when there are a lot of
distractions in the work environment.” (R. 476). Dr.
Romm's treatment notes reflect multiple examples of these
behaviors. He noted in December 2011 that Claimant easily
became angry with others and could be “socially
rude” when she did not get her way. (R. 475). He
described her as “very impulsive” and
“super sensitive to rejection.” (R. 474).
behaviors had not improved by December 2012 when Dr. Romm
noted that Claimant “quickly takes offense, speaks in a
harsh manner . . . and offends people without realizing
it.” (R. 472). Dr. Romm's treatment notes up to the
alleged onset date of April 14, 2015 continue to document
incidents of acting out, impulsivity, and rapid
conversational behavior even though Claimant added lithium to
her medications for bipolar disorder. (R. 458, “She
wants to work on her problem with impulsively changing topics
and jumping around in her conversations. A coworker
complained that he couldn't follow her
conversation”). Dr. Romm's few notes after the
onset date show that Claimant continued to experience
difficulties from her bipolar disorder. On October 16, 2015,
he remarked that her capacity for functioning around others
was “severely limited.” (R. 442).
Romm issued a medical opinion for Claimant on October 23,
2015. He noted that Claimant had suffered from bipolar
disorder since childhood. Her symptoms included hypomania,
depression, and serious impulsiveness that causes her to
encounter interpersonal difficulties with co-workers. Dr.
Romm stated that Claimant's response to psychotherapy was
“poor” and that she “verbally lashes
out” at others despite the medications she takes. He
noted that she was “easily emotionally insulted”
and that her “very impulsive” reaction to
perceived slights had caused “yelling” at
co-workers, “storming off, ” and “pulling
papers from other peoples' hands” at work. (R.
was also evaluated by Dr. Randy Kettering at the SSA's
request on October 19, 2015. He noted that Claimant was first
psychiatrically evaluated at age 13 at the Menninger Hospital
and that she was also treated by psychiatrists during high
school. Dr. Kettering found that Claimant's mood was
variable but that she had no delusional ideas, illogical
thoughts, or a “looseness of associations.” Dr.
Kettering described her speech as “evenly paced.”
When asked to name five large cities she named states
instead. Claimant also refused to calculate serial sevens and
could not perform double-digit additions or subtractions.
Claimant's memory permitted her to recall seven numbers
forward and four backwards; however, she could not remember
any of three random numbers after a five-minute delay.
Contrary to every other psychological expert who examined or
treated Claimant, Dr. Kettering's diagnosis did not
assess any mental disorder. Instead, he stated “R/O
[rule out] Bipolar disorder, recurrent” and “R/O
[rule out] Personality Disorder.” (R. 430-33).
record does not contain treatment notes from treating
psychiatrist Dr. DeCastro. However, he issued a bipolar
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) report on
March 8, 2016. Dr. DeCastro had treated Claimant since July
1999 for bipolar II disorder by providing medication
management once every one to two months. Dr. DeCastro
noted that Claimant's mental impairment affected her
concentration in several ways. Stress triggered irritability
and decreased her focus - both of which led Claimant to make
inappropriate statements. Claimant also suffers from mood
swings that make her more irritable and impatient with her
supervisors. That said, Dr. DeCastro did not believe that
Claimant would need to be off-task more than 15 percent
during a normal work day though she would need to be absent
from work one day each month. Dr. DeCastro concluded that
Claimant suffered from a moderate restriction in her
activities of daily living and marked restrictions in her
social functioning and ability to maintain concentration,
persistence, or pace. (R. 576-77).
2017, Claimant began treatment for her mental disorder at
Counseling Speaks, LLC with Dr. Matt Glowiak after Dr. Romm
retired. It was noted on several visits that she
“appeared agitated with some tangential speech.”
(R. 672-75). A July 12, 2017 treatment note states that she
was struggling to focus and “becomes overwhelmed and
teary when describing social interactions.” (R. 677).
Dr. Glowiak issued a report on August 24, 2017 diagnosing
Claimant with bipolar I disorder. He noted that she displayed
a “tangential” flight of ideas, was easily
distracted, and had limited insight. (R. 670, “Thought
content . . . was positive for preoccupations and obsessive
thoughts”). Dr. Glowiak concluded that Claimant had a
limited ability to function independently and appropriately
in a normal employment setting and “likely cannot
perform at a consistent, competitive pace in a work
setting.” (R. 668-670).
Evidence From the State-Agency Experts
November 13, 2015, state-agency psychologist Dr. Ellen
Rozenfeld issued her report concerning Claimant. She found
that Claimant suffered from an affective disorder that
imposed mild restrictions on her daily activities and created
moderate restrictions in both her social functioning and in
Claimant's ability to maintain concentration. Dr.
Rozenfeld concluded that Claimant could have occasional
contact with co-workers and supervisors and could tolerate
occasional work changes even though her ability to handle
stress was reduced. (R. 105).
Evidence From Claimant's Testimony
appeared at the September 15, 2017 hearing and described her
symptoms to the ALJ. Claimant stated that her bipolar
symptoms fluctuate and that her condition goes “up and
down.” (R. 53). She also has difficulty with focusing
and has been unable to pass her “cashiering
quizzes” at the grocery stores she formerly worked at.
(R. 54; R. 60, “I have no skills with numbers and
calculating”). Medication moderates her symptoms but
Claimant continues to be impulsive in her speech. In fact,
she was fired from her former part-time job as a cashier
after her “not filtered mouth” caused her to
speak inappropriately to customers. At the time of the
hearing Claimant had again been working as a part-time
cashier for three months and had already been reprimanded
several times for inappropriate speech. Claimant had also
permitted two customers to leave the store without noting
that their credit cards had been declined. (R. 47).
described several incidents related to her impulsive speech.
She became so upset during a phone call with her counselor
that the paramedics were called when she threatened to slit
her throat. (R. 53). At an earlier job as an x-ray
technician, she had “many, many, many write ups”
and was suspended after she was “too harsh” with
a patient. (R. 61). She was written up at her former cashier
job after reprimanding a customer for the amount of celery
she bought. (R. 62, “I said how can you buy a stick and
I kept saying it to her. I said you're not supposed to do
that. That's not the right thing to do.”). Claimant
also spends money impulsively. (R. 56).