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Coleman v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

August 4, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


NANETTE K. LAUGHREY, District Judge.

Before the Court is Plaintiff Shelli Coleman's appeal of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying her applications for Title II disability insurance benefits and Title XVI supplemental security income benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

I. Background

Coleman was born in February 1965, has the equivalent of a high school education, and has prior work experience as an administrative clerk. Coleman alleges she became disabled on February 21, 2007, due to the combined effects of osteoarthritis of the hips, obesity, chronic migraines, congenital bilateral hearing loss, generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, obstructive sleep apnea, hypothyroidism, degenerative joint disease, polymyalgia, and polyarthralgia. [TR-427]; [Doc. 12, at p. 2].

The procedural history of this case is particularly important. Following a hearing in November 2009, an ALJ issued a partially favorable decision and concluded Coleman was disabled beginning on June 10, 2009. [TR-13-23]. Coleman appealed the decision to this Court and then to the Eighth Circuit, where, at the request of the Commissioner, the Eighth Circuit remanded the case with instructions to reverse and remand to the Commissioner for further consideration. See generally Coleman v. Astrue, No. 10-0617, 2011 WL 2416327 (W.D. Mo. 2011). On remand in April 2012, the Appeals Council ordered the ALJ to give further consideration to all of Coleman's severe impairments, including her mental impairments, and to consider earlier evidence of Coleman's mental impairments including medical records and a letter from Coleman's pastor. [TR-527-31]. The ALJ issued a new, final hearing decision in January 2013, finding that Coleman was "disabled" according to the Social Security Act beginning October 16, 2008. [TR-424-34]. Coleman appeals the ALJ's finding that she was not disabled between February 21, 2007 and October 15, 2008.

In the ALJ's January 2013 decision, he found that for the period between her alleged onset date of February 21, 2007, and October 15, 2008, Coleman suffered from the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis of the hips, obesity, chronic migraines, and congenital bilateral hearing loss. [TR-427]. After determining Coleman's residual functional capacity as it relates to those severe impairments, and after testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that Coleman's impairments did not preclude her from performing work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. However, beginning October 16, 2008, the ALJ found that Coleman had additional severe impairments - generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder - which precluded her from completing a normal workweek. [TR-427].

Coleman's alleged points of error primarily relate to her mental impairments and so a discussion of the records relating to those impairments is necessary. In October 1986, Coleman was hospitalized for suicidal ideation. [TR-374]. In August 1988, Coleman was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after she complained of depression and suicidal thoughts. [TR-356]. Coleman was discharged approximately one month later. [TR-358]. She was diagnosed with recurrent major depression, borderline personality traits, and exogenous obesity. [TR-358]. Coleman was hospitalized in December 1989 for suicidal plans. [TR-374]. She was diagnosed with adjustment disorder with depressed mood, borderline personality disorder, and obesity. [TR-375].

Coleman worked several jobs beginning around 1992 up to her onset date. The record reflects Coleman experienced financial difficulties in 2007-2008 and had no medical insurance, which affected her ability to obtain all of her prescribed medications for her hip pain and other impairments. See e.g., [TR-291]. Coleman presented to a medical clinic or hospital three times in 2007. She reported migraines or hip pain and reported chest pain at an emergency hospital visit. She also presented for the purpose of applying for disabled license plate tags and to request a reduction in her prescription medications because she could not afford them. [TR-289, 291, 332, 336]. In October 2007, she underwent a consultative, physiatric examination for the purpose of a disability determination. [Doc. 294-98]. At that time, Coleman complained of migraines, aching pain in her back, severe pain in her hips, numbness, tingling, and hearing loss. [TR-296]. In November 2007, a non-examining psychologist reviewed Coleman's records for the purpose of completing a Psychiatric Review Technique. The psychologist opined Coleman had at most, mild mental limitations, and did not have a mental disability. [TR-307].

In June 2008, Coleman complained to her primary care physician that she was experiencing "increased" anxiety and depression. [TR-325]. She was referred to a mental health clinic, but her doctor made no assessment regarding her mental health at that time. Coleman's first appointment at the mental health clinic was October 16, 2008, the same day the ALJ found Coleman's mental impairments to be severe. The licensed psychologist observed that Coleman was experiencing severe depression and anxiety and assessed a GAF score of 37. [TR-1175-76]. The psychologist's record states that Coleman has a history of depression dating back to early childhood and her current symptoms had persisted for two to three years. [TR-1176]. She began regular mental health treatment in May 2009 after qualifying for Medicaid. [TR-1156].

Coleman's mother testified that Coleman suffered from depression during the period of 2007 to 2009, did not have medical insurance, would often cancel appointments they had, and would sometimes refuse to let her in the house. [TR-476-79]. Coleman's pastor also submitted a letter documenting Coleman's mental impairments. The letter, dated November 4, 2008, states that Coleman attended counseling sessions with her pastor every other week for a period of eight or nine months. [TR-276]. The letter states Coleman's "major difficulty was in the area of depression, fears, and worry regarding her self esteem." [TR-276]. The letter also states that, "[f]or a period of time, after our time of counseling, [Coleman] began to improve and experienced better quality of life." [TR-276]. The letter does not indicate the period during which the counseling occurred.

II. Discussion

Coleman argues the ALJ erred by failing to contact her pastor to determine the nature and timing of their counseling sessions, failed to consider whether her lack of mental health treatment was due to her inability to afford it, and failed to consider how her obesity affected her mental functioning. Each of these points of error is unpersuasive and unsupported by the record.

A. Failure to Contact Coleman's Pastor

Coleman argues the ALJ improperly concluded under Step 2 that her mental impairments were not severe prior to October 16, 2008, because the ALJ failed to comply with the Appeals Council's order requiring him to "evaluate the letter from the claimant's pastor... in accordance with 20 C.F.R. ยง 404.1513(d) and Social Security Ruling 06-03p." [TR-530]. In particular, Coleman argues the ALJ ...

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