United States District Court, D. Delaware
KEISHA M. SUTHERLAND, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
L. Smith, Esq., Newark, DE. Attorney for Plaintiff.
C. Weiss, United States Attorney, and Heather Benderson,
Special Assistant United States Attorney, UNITED STATES
ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Philadelphia, PA.
Counsel: Nora Koch, Regional Chief Counsel, and Katie M.
Gaughan, Assistant Regional Counsel, of the Social Security
Administration, Philadelphia, PA. Attorneys for Defendant.
U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.
Keisha M. Sutherland ("Sutherland" or
"Plaintiff) appeals the decision of Defendant Nancy A.
Berryhill, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
("the Commissioner" or "Defendant"),
denying her claim for disability insurance benefits
("DIB") and supplemental security income
("SSI"), under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act, respectively. The Court has jurisdiction
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment. (D.I. 12, 16) Plaintiff Sutherland requests the
Court find that the ALJ must accept the unrebutted opinion of
Sutherland's treating doctor, Dr. Habibah Mosley, and
find that Sutherland has been disabled from her alleged onset
date of April 6, 2007. (D.I. 13 at 11) The Commissioner
requests that the Court affirm the decision denying
Sutherland's claim for DIB and SSI. (D.I. 17 at 14)
reasons stated below, the Court will deny Plaintiffs motion
for summary judgment and grant Defendant's motion.
filed her initial application for DIB and SSI on July 23,
2007, alleging an onset date of April 6, 2007. (D.I. 8
("Tr.") at 503-04) After a hearing, an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued a decision
on April 3, 2009, finding Sutherland not disabled.
(Id. at 503) On appeal, the Appeals Council affirmed
the 2009 decision, leading Sutherland to appeal to this
September 8, 2010, while Sutherland's 2009 appeal was
pending with this Court, Sutherland filed an amended
application for DIB and SSI, amending her alleged onset date
to April 9, 2009. (Id. at 503-04) Sutherland's
amended claims were denied, and a hearing was held on March
7, 2012, before a different ALJ. (Id. at 503) This
ALJ issued a decision finding Sutherland was not disabled,
and Sutherland appealed to the Appeals Council.
13, 2012, this Court granted Sutherland's motion for
summary judgment and remanded the 2009 case. (Id.; see
also Simmonds v. Astrue, 872 F.Supp.2d 351 (D. Del.
2012)) On October 25, 2013, the Appeals Council vacated the
2009 decision and remanded it for further consideration of a
treating source opinion, directed that Sutherland's 2012
appeal be associated with the 2009 appeal, and that a new
decision be issued on the associated claims. (Tr. at 503)
remand hearing was held on July 24, 2014, ; at which both
Sutherland and impartial vocational expert Mitchell A.
Schmidt testified. (Id.) On August 25, 2014, the ALJ
issued a decision finding Sutherland was not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act from Sutherland's
initial alleged onset date of April 2007 through the date of
her decision. (Id. at 503- 19) The Appeals Council
denied Sutherland's request for review, and Sutherland
appealed to this Court. (Id. at 309-13; D.I. 17 at
time she applied for DIB and SSI, Sutherland was a 31
year-old divorced mother of two young daughters. (Tr. at 26;
D.I. 13 at 2) Sutherland has a high school education,
completed three-and-a-half years of college, is a former Army
Reservist, and has been trained as a Licensed Practical
Nurse. (Tr. at 26-28) She last worked in April 2007 as a
lead/charge nurse in a nursing home. (Id. at 29-30)
While Sutherland testified that! she stopped working in April
2007 because she "started getting confused"
(id. at 29), the record also shows that Sutherland
told Frederick Kurz, Ph.D., the consultative psychological
examiner, that she stopped working because she was not
getting enough hours at work and was denied a vacation. (D.I.
17 at 3; see also Tr. At 224).
2009 and 2012 ALJ hearings, Sutherland testified that she was
able to assist her daughters with their homework and personal
hygiene, prepare their meals, walk them to the park, and
drive them to school. (Tr. at 149, 361, 364-66) Sutherland
was also able to wash dishes, do laundry, dust, sweep, clean,
and shop for groceries, as well as attend religious services
on Sundays and visit with friends and family. (Id.
at 152-54, 364-66) In addition, at the 2012 and 2014 ALJ
hearings, Sutherland testified that she helped care for her
housebound grandfather, with whom she lived, that she was
able to drive a car, and that she had taken multiple trips to
Jamaica during the alleged period of disability.
(Id. at 349, 367, 400-02)
relevant medical history began on April 6, 2007, the date
Sutherland testified she first "started getting
confused" and "inexplicably stopped going to
work." (Tr. at 29; D.I. 13 at 2) Sutherland subsequently
had a ten-day hospital stay in July 2007 due to an episode of
confusion, after police officers found her partially clothed
and unable to explain the whereabouts of her children. (Tr.
at 202-22, 269-76; D.I. 17 at 4; D.I. 13 at 3) Sutherland was
admitted for acute exacerbation of psychotic illness and
medication noncompliance with a global assessment of
functioning (GAF) score of 30, indicating behavior that is
considerably influenced by delusions or hallucinations,
serious impairment in communication or judgment, or inability
to function in almost all areas. (Tr. at 203; D.I. 13 at 3)
She was later discharged in stable condition with a diagnosis
of bipolar affective disorder (depressed). (Tr. at 202-03)
August 8, 2007, Sutherland began treatment with psychiatrist
Habibah E. Mosley, D.O. (Id. at 284-86) During her
initial visit, Dr. Mosley reported that Sutherland appeared
kempt, pleasant, cooperative, alert, and oriented to person,
place, and time. (Id. at 285) Dr. Mosley also
reported that Sutherland had no hallucinations or suicidal
ideations, and assessed a GAF score of 50, indicating serious
symptoms or serious impairment in social, occupational, or
school functioning. (Id. at 285-86) Sutherland was
diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features, and
prescribed medication and continuing therapy treatment.
(Id. at 286)
October 22, 2007, Sutherland underwent a neurological
evaluation with Michael J. Carunchio, Jr., M.D. (Id.
at 249-52) Dr. Carunchio documented that Sutherland appeared
alert and oriented to person, place, and time, and that her
recent/remote memory, attention, language, and fund of
knowledge were all normal. (Id. at 251) Dr.
Carunchio noted that he was uncertain as to the etiology of
Sutherland's "extended periods of
behavior-confusion, " and that he was "unable to
glean specifics to suggest an epileptogenic component."
at the hospital, on November 14, 2007, Sutherland had an MRI
scan of her brain, which showed no abnormality. (Id.
at 246, 248) After being discharged from the hospital, and
during a follow-up visit on November 29, 2007, Dr. Carunchio
noted again that Sutherland was alert, had normal speech and
comprehension, and that he saw no indication of a neurologic
disturbance. (Id. at 246)
continued seeing Dr. Mosley on a monthly basis, and on
November 7, 2008, Dr. Mosley noted that Sutherland had
stopped taking her medication, had not slept for two days,
had a decreased appetite, and was disoriented. (Id.
at 298, 301) Sutherland was subsequently admitted to the
hospital again, for a stay that again lasted ten days.
(Id. at 287-96) Upon psychiatric examination,
Sutherland was alert, oriented to place and person, and had
average intellectual functioning, but was assessed to have a
GAF score of 15, indicating some danger of hurting oneself or
others or gross impairment in communication. (Id. at
December 1, 2008, Dr. Mosley completed a mental impairment
questionnaire, noting that Sutherland had responded well to
treatment and indicating that Sutherland was
limited-but-satisfactory in her ability to remember work-like
procedures, maintain regular attendance and be punctual, and
ask simple questions or request assistance. (Id. at
254-56) Dr. Mosley also indicated that Sutherland was
seriously limited, but not precluded, in her ability to
understand and carry out simple instructions, maintain
attention for two-hour segments, sustain an ordinary routine,
work with others, make simple work-related decisions,
complete a normal workday and workweek, perform at a
consistent pace, respond appropriately to changes in a
routine work setting, and be aware of normal hazards.
(Id. at 256) Dr. Mosley found Sutherland markedly
limited and unable to meet competitive standards in accepting
instructions and responding appropriately to criticism from
supervisors, getting along with co-workers or peers without
unduly distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes,
and dealing with normal work stress. (Id.) Dr.
Mosley noted that Sutherland was moderately limited in
performing the activities of daily living, would have
moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning and
in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace, and had
three, two-week episodes of decompensation within a
twelve-month period. (Id. at 257) Dr. Mosley
ultimately diagnosed ...