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Patton v. Astrue

United States District Court, D. Delaware

July 10, 2015

JUNE A. PATTON, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

GREGORY M. SLEET, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

The plaintiff June A. Patton ("Patton") filed applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") on July 11, 2006, pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. (D.1. 11 at 190-200.) The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied Patton's applications initially and upon reconsideration. ( Id. at 121-28, 133-42.) Patton requested a rehearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which took place on July 23, 2008. ( Id. at 34-63). On March 23, 2009, the ALJ, Barbara K. Powell, issued a written decision denying Patton's DIB and SSI claims. ( Id. at 102-16.) Subsequently, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded Patton's claims for further consideration. ( Id. at 119.) A supplemental hearing occurred on September 27, 2010. ( Id. at 66.) On October 20, 2010, ALJ Powell issued a written decision once again denying Patton's DIB and SSI claims. ( Id. at 13-27.) Subsequently, the Appeals Council denied Patton's request for review. ( Id. at 1-5.)

On July 18, 2012, Patton filed this action against defendant Michael J. Astrue, former Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"), [1] for a review of the final decision denying her DIB and SSI applications. (D.I. 1.) Presently before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. (D.I. 14; D.I. 19.) For the reasons that follow, the court will: (1) grant Patton's motion for summary judgment; and (2) deny the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment.

II. BACKGROUND

Patton was born on June 25, 1967. (D.I. 11 at 243.) Patton alleged disability due to depression, anxiety, a heart condition, and chest pain. ( Id. at 255.) Patton's alleged onset date of disability is January 1, 2006. ( Id. at 13.)

A. Physical Impairments

On February 3, 2007, Dr. Irwin L. Lifrak performed a consultative examination on Patton at the request of the State Disability Determination Services. ( Id. at 466.) Dr. Lifrak noted Patton walked with a limp favoring her left side. ( Id. at 468.) In addition, Dr. Lifrak found a limited range of motion in both her knees and hips as well as in the lumbosacral region. ( Id. at 469.) Dr. Lifrak diagnosed Patton with degenerative joint disease of the bilateral knees and potential disc damage. ( Id. )

On May 30, 2007, Dr. Richard D' Alonzo examined Patton with regards to Patton's complaints of bilateral knee pain. (D.I. 12 at 713.) Dr. D' Alonzo found crepitation in Patton's knees and diagnosed her with mild tracking of the patella with subluxation and chrondromalacia. ( Id. ) Dr. D' Alonzo remarked that Patton was not a good surgical candidate due to her weight, and instead recommended a diet program and strengthening exercises. ( Id. )

Dr. James Rubano, an orthopedic specialist, examined Patton from 2007 to 2009. ( Id. at 709-16.) In response to Patton's complaints of bilateral knee pain, Dr. Rubano treated her with knee braces, physical therapy, and cortisone injections. ( Id. ) An MRI on April 28, 2009, showed evidence of patellar degeneration, and Dr. Rubano's overall impression was bilateral knee arthritis. (D.I. 11 at 16, D.I. 12 at 817, 821-25.) On September 15, 2009, Dr. Brian Brice performed a consultative examination on Patton at the request of the State Disability Determination Services. (D.I. 12 at 817-18.) Patton reported having difficulty with climbing stairs, carrying groceries and "walking over a block." ( Id. ) Furthermore, Patton related that she was using a single-point cane for stairs. ( Id. ) Dr. Brice's impression was a history chronic bilateral patellar chrondromalacia with chronic pain. ( Id. ) In October 2009, Patton injured her foot, however, an X-Ray showed no acute fracture or dislocation. ( Id. at 971-91.)

On July 14, 2010, Patton underwent surgery for posterior tibial tendon dysfunction. ( Id. at 918.) Furthermore, a lumbar spine MRI conducted on September 10, 2010, demonstrated underlying scoliosis and diffuse spondyltic changes with lateral extension of disc bulge towards the neural foramina, particularly at the L3-4 and L4-5 levels. ( Id. at 971-91.)

Patton is five feet, three inches tall and, at the time of the 2010 supplemental hearing, weighed 180 pounds. (D.I. 11 at 17.) This equates with a Body Mass. Index (BMI) of 31.9, which is consistent with obesity. ( Id. ) The ALJ considered the additional and cumulative effects of Patton's obesity in assessing her other impairments. ( Id. )

B. Mental Impairments

Patton has a history of panic attacks and headaches beginning in December 2004. ( Id. at 367-86.) On June 26, 2006, Patton presented to the Christiana Care Health Services emergency department with suicide ideation and symptoms of depression and anxiety due to her boyfriend leaving. ( Id. at 445-53.) Patton agreed to attend a partial hospitalization outpatient program. ( Id. at 453.)

On August 29, 2006, Patton sought treatment for her mental health impairments at Connections CSP, Inc., where she began seeing Chuck Chaney, a nurse therapist.[2] (D.I. 12 at 529.) Mr. Chaney assessed Patton with a GAF score of 50 and diagnosed her with recurrent depression.[3] ( Id. ) Mr. Chaney's treatment records demonstrate that Patton suffers from intermittent exacerbations of symptoms due to situational family stressors. ( Id. 514-40, 762-86.) Mr. Chaney's treatment notes for the remainder of 2006 indicate Patton's increased anxiety, however, they also demonstrate she responded well to medication. ( Id. at 515.)

Dr. Ramnik Singh examined Patton in January 2007. (D.I. 11 at. 461.) Dr. Singh diagnosed Patton with major depressive disorder and found she had "moderate" limitations in all areas[4] except for a finding of no ...


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