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Gordon v. Colvin

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

November 5, 2014



NANETTE K. LAUGHREY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Margaret Gordon seeks review of the Administrative Law Judge's decision denying her application for Social Security benefits. For the following reasons, the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is affirmed.

I. Background

A. Gordon's Medical History

Gordon has a long history of psychiatric treatment for anxiety and depression. In 2004, Gordon began receiving treatment from Dr. Nabil El-Halawany. [Tr. 280-282]. Dr. El-Halawany diagnosed Gordon with generalized anxiety disorder and dysthymic disorder. [Tr. 282]. Between January 2006 and May 2012, Gordon saw Dr. El-Halawany at least sixteen times, during which time the doctor noted variations in Gordon's symptoms and demeanor. [Tr. 269-279, 307-309, 327-335, 337-348]. For example, in January 2006 Dr. El-Halawany prescribed Gordon Prozac and Xanax. [Tr. 279]. He noted that Gordon felt depressed and unmotivated and that she stated she often slept all day in bed. [Tr. 279]. At an appointment in July 2007, Gordon complained of uncontrollable crying. [Tr. 274]. In May and July 2010, Gordon stated that she was sad, depressed, and feeling angry at everyone. [Tr. 307-308]. Most of the records between 2006 and 2012 were accompanied by notes stating that Gordon's hygiene and grooming were fair, she had no thoughts of suicide or homicide, and that her symptoms were being controlled by medication.

In August 2010, Dr. El-Halawany completed a Mental Medical Source Statement. [Tr. 255-258]. The doctor noted that Gordon had marked limitations in her ability to cope with stress, function independently, behave in an emotionally stable manner, maintain reliability, interact with the general public, accept instructions, respond to criticism, understand and remember simple instructions, maintain concentration and attention for extended periods, sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision, work in coordination with others, make simple work-related decisions, perform at a consistent pace, and respond to changes in a work setting. Id. He also stated that Gordon's impairments would cause unpredictable work interruptions and chronic absences. Id. He concluded his statement noting "patient needs disability." [Tr. 258].

In January 2010, Gordon saw DDS consultative examiner Dr. Robert Pulcher. [Tr. 284-288]. Dr. Pulcher diagnosed Gordon with Depressive Disorder NOS and Generalized Anxiety Disorder NOS. Id. He stated that Plaintiff might be able to return to some type of work "with close supervision." Tr. at 287. That same month, agency reviewing psychologist Dr. Kenneth Burstin completed a Mental Residual Functional Capacity form. [Tr. 291-293]. He stated that Gordon had moderate limitations in her ability to understand and remember detailed instructions, carry out detailed instructions, and interact appropriately with the general public. Id. He noted that Gordon could adapt to changes in settings which did not include frequent public contact or close interaction with others. Id.

In addition to mental health treatment, Gordon has undergone treatment and evaluation for arthritis and diabetes. In July 2010, Gordon saw Michelle Hirsch, FNP, for evaluation of joint swelling and pain in both of her hands. [Tr. 316-317]. Hirsch assessed Gordon with multiple joint pain with suspected rheumatoid arthritis. Id. In August 2010, Gordon underwent a sonogram that disclosed an enlarged, fatty infiltrated liver. [Tr. 311].

B. ALJ Decision

The ALJ denied Gordon's request for disability benefits, concluding that Gordon had the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to engage in substantial gainful activity. The ALJ concluded that despite Gordon's severe impairments of depression, anxiety, and recent diagnosis of diabetes mellitus, she retained the following RFC:

[T]o perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) including lifting and carrying fifty pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently, standing and walking eight hours of a workday, and sitting eight hours of a workday. Mentally, she is limited to repetitive work with no detailed tasks or instructions, and she cannot have interaction with the public and only occasional interactions with co-workers.

[Tr. 22-23]. He then relied on vocational expert testimony to conclude that Gordon could achieve employment as a stubber, lab equipment cleaner, or industrial cleaner. [Tr. 26].

In determining Gordon's RFC, the ALJ accorded significant weight to consultative examiner Dr. Pulcher's mental status examination and his observed mild to moderate signs and findings. [Tr. 25]. He did not accord significant weight to Dr. Pulcher's conclusions that Gordon was limited to part-time work or work requiring close supervision. Id. The ALJ also assigned weight to reviewing psychiatrist Dr. Burstin's conclusion that Gordon could adapt to changes in settings not requiring frequent public contact or close interactions with others. Id. In evaluating treating physician Dr. El-Halawany's opinion the ALJ noted that he could not "give great weight to this opinion as it is not supported by the underlying ...

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