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Alcott v. Colvin

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

September 17, 2014

ASHLEE D. ALCOTT, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


NANETTE K. LAUGHREY, District Judge.

Before the Court is Plaintiff Ashlee Alcott'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

Alcott was born in January 1986, has a high school education and medical assistant education, and has prior work experience as a telephone order clerk, cashier, waitress, deli cutter, and hand packager. Alcott alleges she became disabled on July 1, 2008, due to the combined effects of bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, personality disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, and degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine. TR-184; Doc. 11, at p. 1.

Before discussing Plaintiff's alleged points of error, a brief discussion of Plaintiff's medical history is necessary. Plaintiff testified that in 2000 or 2001, when Plaintiff was 15 years old, she sustained neck injuries after she fell off the hood of a moving car in a parking lot. She testified that she has had ongoing pain in her neck since the accident. Plaintiff also testified that she has difficulty getting along with others and suffers from frequent panic attacks, depression, and difficulty concentrating.

A. Medical History

1. Mental Health Records

Intermittently from August 2007 to February 2012, Plaintiff presented to various care providers complaining of uncontrollable anger, high irritability, poor concentration, panic, low energy and fatigue, crying spells, racing thoughts, mood swings, flashbacks, guilt, stress, fear of failure, restlessness, nervousness, bad dreams, anxiety, depression, sadness, insomnia, and panic attacks. She was variably diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, panic disorder without agoraphobia, anxiety disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, and personality disorder. She had global assessment functioning (GAF) scores ranging from 22 to 70.

In April 2008 and January 2009, she reported doing well on her medications and returned several times for refills. In December 2008, Plaintiff "self referred" herself for a psychiatric evaluation. TR-363. The psychiatrist observed that she was cooperative, aware of her problems and seeking help, appeared anxious, had a labile mood, and exhibited manic behavior. Id. Her cognitive functions were intact. Id. She had a GAF score of 45-50. Id.

In July 2010, Plaintiff presented to the emergency room complaining of anxiety and agitation. She returned two days later complaining of suicidal thoughts, agitation, and voices. TR-454. She was transferred to a psychiatric facility, where she stayed for approximately one week. TR-453. She was given a GAF score ranging from 22 to 50 and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, degenerative disc disease, and seizure-like episodes. TR-470-75. She reported being off medications for the last year due to lack of health insurance. TR-489.

In October 2010, Dr. Martin Isenberg, a non-examining psychiatrist, completed a Psychiatric Review Technique. TR-519. He opined that Plaintiff had severe impairments, but that they were not expected to last twelve months. He noted that Plaintiff had diagnoses of bipolar disorder, ADHD, and panic disorder. TR-520, 522-23. He concluded Plaintiff had no more than mild limitations in activities of daily living, social functioning, and concentration, persistence, and pace, and had no repeated episodes of decompensation. TR-527.

In November 2011, Dr. Jane Ruedi examined Plaintiff for the purpose of a psychological evaluation. She completed a Medical Source Statement-Mental. TR-732. During her examination, Plaintiff stated she was able to take care of her six year old son, her personal needs and her home, was able to cook, and takes her laundry to the Laundromat. TR-731. She occasionally spends times with her friends, likes to spend time outdoors with her boyfriend, and scrapbooks. Dr. Ruedi remarked that Plaintiff's profile on the Minnesota Multi Phasic Personality Inventory-2 "was an invalid one, with an elevated F scale and severe fake bad' response set." TR-730. Dr. Ruedi opined the Plaintiff appeared capable of interacting socially and adapting to her environment if it were a supportive one and was in a low stress setting. TR-731. Dr. Ruedi opined that Plaintiff would have moderate limitations in the ability to make judgments on complex work-related decisions and the ability to respond appropriately to usual work situations and to changes in routine. TR-732-33. No other limitations were present, but a low stress work environment was recommended. TR-733.

At Plaintiff's disability hearing in June 2012, Dr. Nancy Winfrey, a nonexamining medical expert, testified as to Plaintiff's mental limitations after a review of her records up to November 2011. Dr. Winfrey observed from the record that after Plaintiff's alleged disability onset date, Plaintiff was able to take care of her small child and complete medical assistant training at a technical college, but had some difficulty managing money. TR-68. Dr. Winfrey opined Plaintiff had mild restrictions in activities of daily living, moderate difficulties in social functioning and maintaining concentration, persistence, and pace, and one episode of decompensation in July 2010. TR-68. Dr. Winfrey acknowledged that Plaintiff had ADHD diagnoses but opined that the diagnoses were by history only, meaning that physicians did not diagnose the disorder and instead relied on what Plaintiff told them. TR-69. Dr. Winfrey stated that support for an ADHD diagnosis was weak. Id. Dr. Winfrey stated Plaintiff could handle simple instructions and probably complicated instructions and recommended limited exposure to the public to prevent panic attacks. TR-70. In forming her opinion, Dr. Winfrey testified that review of Dr. Ruedi's report was helpful. TR-71. Dr. Winfrey also noted that the week Plaintiff spent in the psychiatric facility in July 2010 was likely due to being off of her medication and was triggered by trauma. Id.

2. Physical Health Records

In November 2008, Plaintiff was examined for swelling in her neck. TR-246. She complained of tightness and stated that her neck had not bothered her for the past one and one half years. TR-246. Upon examination, Plaintiff struggled to rotate her neck and exhibited tenderness and tightness. TR-247. From January to June 2009, Plaintiff presented to multiple healthcare providers and complained of neck pain, spasms, and decreased range of motion. TR-772-85. In March 2009, an MRI of her cervical spine revealed reversed lordosis in the mid-cervical spine and mild posterior bulging of the intervertebral discs with mild central canal narrowing. TR-790. In November 2009, Plaintiff went to the emergency room complaining of burning neck pain. She had decreased range of motion and was thought to have cervical radiculopathy. TR-311-12. In February ...

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