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Grant v. Commissioner of Social Security

November 17, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wigenton, District Judge.


Before the Court is Plaintiff Linda Grant's ("Grant" or "Plaintiff") appeal of the Commissioner of Social Security's (the "Commissioner") final decision that she was not disabled within the meaning of Title II, 42 U.S.C. § 423(d) or Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A), of the Social Security Act (the "Act") from June 1, 2003, through October 14, 2008. The main issue in this case is whether Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform her past relevant work based on her testimony and the medical evidence in the record.

This Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). For the reasons stated below, this Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.


i. Procedural History

Grant applied for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits on January 27, 2006, and Supplemental Security Income Benefits on March 1, 2006. (Exs. 1D, 2D.) On October 6, 2006, the Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claims on the grounds that she is not disabled under the Act. (Ex. 1B.) On November 27, 2006, Plaintiff requested reconsideration. (Ex. 2B.) Upon reconsideration, the Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claims again. (Exs. 3B, 4B.) Plaintiff then requested a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Ex. 6B.) On October 14, 2008, the ALJ issued a ruling against Plaintiff, finding that she is not disabled under sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Act. (ALJ's Decision at 2.) Plaintiff's subsequent request for review was denied in an Appeals Council Action on November 12, 2009. (AC Denial at 1.)

ii. Personal and Medical History

Plaintiff is a forty-one year old woman with three children. (Ex. 1D at 1; Tr. 8.) She concluded her formal education after the 9th grade. (Tr. 6-7; Pl.'s Br. 6.) Although Plaintiff claims her disability occurred on June 1, 2003, the most significant event leading to her claim for benefits took place on July 18, 2003, when she was admitted to the hospital for a week because she suffered from "seizures, convulsions, headaches[,] and alcohol withdrawal delirium." (Pl.'s Br. 2; Tr. 7; Ex. 1D at 1; Ex. 14E.) As a result, she "lost a lot of oxygen to the brain," which might have caused permanent damage. (Pl.'s Br. 3, 6.) According to Grant, she was dependent on alcohol for thirty-four years, (Pl.'s Br. 4), and her seizures, as well as her current ailments were induced by excessive alcohol consumption. (Tr. 9-10.) However, she claims the last time she drank was in 2003 around the time she experienced her debilitating seizure. (Pl.'s Br. 6.) She also testified that she has not had an epileptic seizure since 2003. (Tr. 16; Ex. 4F at 2.)*fn1

Plaintiff's "final diagnosis was possible Weinecke-Korsakoff."*fn2 (ALJ's Decision at 5.) Currently, Plaintiff suffers from poor memory, hallucinations, and daily partial seizures. (Tr. 9-10.) Her scores on the Wechsler Memory Scale-III fell in the extremely low range of memory functioning.*fn3 (Ex. 5F at 3; Pl.'s Br. 4.) According to an evaluation conducted by Dr. Althea Lazzara ("Dr. Lazzara") for the DDDS, Plaintiff appears to "have severe impairment in short term auditory recall memory, short term visual memory[,] and [poor] ability to concentrate." (Pl.'s Br. 5.) Dr. Lazzara also asserts that Grant has "signs and symptoms of cognitive decline as a result of 34 years of alcohol dependence." (ALJ's Decision at 5; Ex. 4F.) Consequently, Plaintiff maintains that her boyfriend has to remind her to take her medication, (Ex. 5E at 1), and she has to "write everything down." (Ex. 7E at 2.)

Furthermore, Grant claims to suffer from auditory and visual hallucinations. (Pl.'s Br. 5; Ex. 2E at 3.) She asserts that a "big tall woman" appears daily and talks to her. (Tr. 10). Plaintiff describes one particular instance in which the woman told her to open the window "caus[ing] the air conditioner to fall." (Pl.'s Br. 6; Tr. 10.) She claims that sometimes the woman "brings different people." (Ex. 4F at 215.) She also maintains that she sees things like fire and objects falling. (Id.) Grant asserts that she has become afraid of crowded places and loud noises. Consequently, she only leaves the house to attend her doctor's appointments. (Ex. 5E at 7.)

Plaintiff also alleges that she suffers from five-minute seizures two to three times daily, (Ex. 9E at 1; Ex. 14E), but Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Nagesh Krish ("Dr. Krish"), who she has been seeing from June 2005 to March 2006, (Pl.'s Br. 5; Ex. 8E at 3), maintains that Plaintiff's partial complex seizures are well controlled on Topamax. (Ex. 7E at 5; Ex. 2F. at 6; Ex. 3F.) However, Grant has failed to take her medications consistently. (Exs. 11F, 13F.) Her pharmacy records specifically indicate that Grant was not taking the medications prescribed to control her seizures and headaches. (Id.) On April 20, 2007, Dr. Kopel Burk, a non-examining state agency medical consultant, prepared a report which noted that Plaintiff "is not compliant with her medication. And there is evidence that her seizures are [a]lcohol [w]ithdrawal related." (Ex. 13F.)

Additionally, Grant stated on several occasions that she constantly experiences a "pounding" pain in the top left side of her head. (Ex. 6E at 2, 5.) She alleges that "[t]he pain gets so bad at times [that she] can't even get [her] head up from the pillow." (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff claims that she is often confused, her right arm shakes, she cannot hold a glass, write, follow instructions, or socialize with others. (Ex. 5E at 2, 6.) Nonetheless, she can dress herself, shower, feed herself, and complete some house chores.*fn4 (Id. at 2.) Her other daily activities include: brushing her teeth, eating breakfast, feeding pigeons, listening to the news, watching television, and taking her medication. (Id. at 1.) Plaintiff is able to complete the above tasks without assistance; however, she has expressed some difficulty in zipping her clothing, tying her hair back, and feeding herself with her right hand. (Id.) Grant also claims that she is unable to care for her one year old son. (Pl.'s Br. 7.)

Dr. Krish, prescribed Lametel, and Seroquel for Plaintiff's hallucinations, and Topamax for her hand shaking.*fn5 (Ex. 7E at 6.) As of March 30, 2006, Dr. Krish did not know if Plaintiff was "actively consuming alcohol." (Ex. 2F at 6.) On September 29, 2006, Dr. Krish signed a General Medical Report, in which he checked off a box indicating that he could not provide, based on his medical findings, a medical opinion regarding Grant's "ability to do work related activities." (Ex. 14F at 4.) Subsequently, on October 3, 2006, Dr. Krish opined to Dr. Benito Tan ("Dr. Tan"), another non-examining state agency medical consultant, that Grant "can do simple work." (Ex. 6F.) The next day, Dr. Tan conducted a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment and found, after giving "controlling weight to Dr. Krish's opinion," (ALJ's Decision at 6), that Plaintiff had the ability to "remember locations and work-like procedures," "understand, remember, and carry out very short and simple instructions," "sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision," "make simple work related decisions," and "interact appropriately with the general public." (Ex. 8F at 1-2.) Dr. Tan also concluded that Grant's ability to "understand and remember detailed instructions," and "work in coordination with or proximity to others without being distracted by them" was only "moderately limited." (Id. at 1.)

Furthermore, in June 2006, Dr. Stuart From ("Dr. From"), another non-examining state agency medical consultant, opined, after speaking with Dr. Krish, that Plaintiff "had no exertional limitations." Additionally, although Plaintiff could not "climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds," Dr. From reported that she could "perform all other postural functions frequently." (ALJ's Decision at 5; Exs. 2F, 3F.) Yet, ...

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