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Dori Seabon v. Commissioner of Social Security

July 25, 2011


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



Dori Seabon ("Plaintiff") appeals the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her request for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). The court has jurisdiction to review this matter under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) and decides this matter without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78. The Court finds that the record provides substantial evidence supporting the Commissioner's decision that plaintiff is not disabled. Accordingly, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.


Plaintiff was born July 2, 1955 and at the time of this appeal was fifty-five years old. (Administrative Record ("R") 25). She has a bachelor's degree in business administration and had worked as an office assistant for over 25 years. (R. 25, 112). She has not worked since January 27, 2005, at which time she suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized. (R. 30). Plaintiff asserts that she has been disabled since then.

A. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI on June 9, 2006 alleging that she was disabled due to anxiety and depression. (R. 97, 103). The Social Security Administration denied her claims both initially and on appeal. (R. 64, 70). Upon plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (R. 20). On August 4, 2008, the ALJ issued a written decision denying plaintiff's claim. (R. 7). On March 5, 2010, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the hearing, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 1).

Thereafter, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court alleging that the ALJ's decision was not based on substantial evidence. Specifically, plaintiff argues that the ALJ's residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment does not adequately reflect her psychiatric impairments, and consequently, the vocational expert's testimony cannot be relied upon because the ALJ did not convey all of plaintiff's credibly established limitations to the vocational expert. Plaintiff asks this Court to reverse the Commissioner's order denying benefits or, otherwise, to remand the case for reconsideration.

B. Factual History

Plaintiff has a bachelor's degree in business administration and worked as an office assistant at various companies from 1979 to 2005. (R. 25, 112). During this time, her job responsibilities included answering phones, filing, typing, processing claims and insurance payments, and researching. (R. 113). She also served as a supervisor for several years. (R. 113). Her work was sedentary in nature. (R. 29).

In January of 2005, plaintiff suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized due to major depression with psychotic features. (R. 174). She was reportedly overwhelmed with financial, legal, and other social concerns. (R. 174). In her intake assessment at Union City Psychiatric Clinic ("UCPC"), dated February 18, 2005, plaintiff reported that she had gotten very depressed due to continued stressors in her life including her recent eviction, conflicts with family, and an inability to maintain permanent employment. (R. 206-208). She had also been drinking more heavily and got into a fight with two of her sisters with whom she was living. (R. 206-208). She was diagnosed with major depression and alcohol abuse. (R. 203).

Psychiatric reports completed by Dr. Dinesh Patel, M.D., at UCPC from 2005 to 2007 indicate that plaintiff suffered from depressive disorder with anxiety. (R. 280-306). The reports also show that plaintiff's conditions improved once treatment was administered. (R. 190-200). Doctors' notes from April 5, 2005 through July 14, 2006 state that plaintiff was "less depressed" and "doing better." (R. 190, 195, 199, 200). Psychiatric reports show that plaintiff was alert, interactive, and her thought process, insight, and judgment were all intact. (R. 287, 290, 293, 311). Although her global assessment of functioning score was initially 45 in February 2005, it improved to 55-60 while treatment was ongoing. (R. 282, 288, 291, 294). A score of 55-60 is consistent with moderate difficulty in social and occupational functioning. See American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ("DSM"), 34 (4th ed. Text Revision 2000).

Upon filing her applications for DIB and SSI, plaintiff completed a function report questionnaire on July 17, 2006. (R. 118-125). Plaintiff reported that she felt anxious, depressed, and nervous. (R. 119, 122). She also stated that she had problems getting along with people because she is moody and short tempered. (R. 119). Despite this, plaintiff reported that she could follow spoken and written instructions and had no problems getting along with bosses, teachers, police, landlords, or other people in authority. (R. 124). Although she stated that she had difficulty paying attention, she stated that she was able to finish what she started. (R. 124). Plaintiff also reported that she looked for a job, but could not find one. (R. 125).

On September 21, 2006, Dr. Kim Arrington, Psy. D., conducted a psychiatric examination of plaintiff. (R. 240-243). She reported that plaintiff was alert; her thought process was coherent and goal directed; her attention, concentration, and memory were intact; her intellectual functioning was in the average to above average range; and her insight and judgment were good. (R. 241-242). Vocationally, plaintiff was able to follow and understand simple instructions, perform simple tasks independently, maintain a regular schedule with support, learn new tasks and perform complex tasks, make appropriate decisions, and relate adequately with others. (R. 242). Dr. Arrington concluded that plaintiff's psychiatric problems were not significant enough to interfere with her ability to function on a daily basis. (R. 243).

Dr. W. Skranovski, M.D., then examined plaintiff on November 6, 2006. (R. 244-257). He found that plaintiff suffered from an affective disorder, but that her impairment was not severe. (R. 244). He reported that plaintiff did not have any restrictions of daily living; did not have any difficulties maintaining social functioning; and did not have any difficulty in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. (R. 254). Moreover, he found that plaintiff was able to memorize and carry out tasks, interact socially in a work setting, and adapt to change. (R. 256). It was noted that plaintiff experienced one or two episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration. (R. 254). Dr. Skranovski concluded, however, that there was no evidence of any functional limitations. (R. 256).

On February 27, 2007, Dr. Michael D'Adamo, Ph.D., reviewed and agreed with Dr. Skranovski's findings. (R. 276-277). He stated that review of notes from January, 2005 through January, 2006 indicate progressive improvement of plaintiff's depression.

(R. 276).

On February 7, 2007, Dr. Esha Khoshnu, M.D., conducted a psychological consultative examination of plaintiff. (R. 273-275). At the examination, plaintiff reported suffering from agitation, anxiety, depression, mood swings, and trouble sleeping. (R. 273). She also stated that she could not work because she starts sweating even when she thinks about looking for a job. (R. 273). Dr. Khoshnu found, however, that plaintiff was alert and oriented and that her affect was normal. (R. 274). Moreover, plaintiff could count serial sevens, spell the word "world" backward, and abstract the meanings of phrases, indicating normal cognitive functioning. (R. 275). Dr. Khoshnu diagnosed plaintiff with bipolar disorder and estimated that her global assessment of functioning was 55-60. (R. 275).

At the hearing on August 4, 2008, plaintiff testified that she suffers from a lack of sleep, an inability to focus, and anxiety. (R. 30). She currently takes psychotropic medication for her conditions. (R. 31). Under questioning from her attorney, plaintiff stated that she experiences good and bad days in roughly equal proportions. (R. 32-34). On good days, she is able to get up, take a shower, do chores, and go outside. (R. 32). On bad days, she does not want to get out of bed and has to be told to do certain things. (R. 33). When asked why she is unable to work, plaintiff stated that she is "jittery, anxious, and becomes snappy." (R. 36). She said that she experiences anxiety about once a week and that it lasts for a few hours. (R. 36).

Plaintiff also testified that, following her hospitalization in 2005, she moved in with another sister and her two children. (R. 44). She reported that, since doing so, her living situation has improved dramatically. (R. 17). She is independent in her own care and able to live cooperatively with others. (R. 17). Plaintiff stated that she shops, cooks, cleans, does household chores, takes her 16 year old nephew to and from school each day, helps the children with their homework, and volunteers at her niece's elementary school. She also manages her own money, drives, and takes public transportation. (R. 44-48). During the day, plaintiff enjoys watching television, listening to the radio, and bowling. (R. 46).

On August 28, 2008, Dr. Patel conducted a medical assessment of plaintiff's ability to do work related activities. (R. 307-309). He reported that plaintiff's abilities to use her judgment, function on her own, and maintain personal appearance were good; but that her abilities to relate to co-workers, interact with supervisors, deal with stress, maintain concentration, and behave in an emotionally stable manner were all poor. (R. 307-308). Moreover, Dr. Patel found that the plaintiff's ability to follow work rules; deal with the public; demonstrate reliability; and understand, remember and carry out complex ...

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