Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Rickabaugh v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 22, 2017

KEITH D. RICKABAUGH, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ODERAH C. NWAEZE, DUANE MORRIS LLP, WILMIRIGTON, DE OF COUNSEL EDDY PIERRE PIERRE, LAW OFFICES OF HARRY J. BINDER AND CHARLES E. BINDER, P.C., NEW YORK, NY ATTORNEYS FOR PLAINTIFF

          DAVID C. WEISS, ACTING UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, AND HEATHER BENDERSON, SPECIAL ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, WILMINGTON, DE OF COUNSEL: NORA KOCH, ACTING REGIONAL CHIEF COUNSEL, REGION III AND MARGARET REED, ASSISTANT REGIONAL COUNSEL, OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, PHILADELPHIA, PA ATTORNEYS FOR DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          STARK, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Keith Rickabaugh ("Plaintiff or "Rickabaugh") appeals the decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "the Commissioner"), denying his claim for Social Security disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title II and Title XVI, respectively, of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-403, 1381-1383f. The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. (D.I. 12, 14) Rickabaugh seeks reversal of the Commissioner's decision or remand to the Commissioner for proper consideration of the record. (D.I. 13 at 25) The Commissioner requests that the Court affirm the decision denying Rickabaugh's claim for DIB and SSI. (D.I. 15 at 17)

         For the reasons stated below, the Court will deny Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment and grant Defendant's motion.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         On September, 7, 2010 and September 22, 2010, Rickabaugh filed Title II and Title XVI applications for DIB and SSI, respectively, alleging disability starting on July 12, 2010. (D.I. 6 ("Transcript" and hereinafter "Tr.") at 342, 344) Rickabaugh's claims were denied on December 7, 2010 and again denied upon reconsideration on July 13, 2011. (Tr. at 230, 238) Rickabaugh then requested a hearing before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.1429. (Tr. at 244) The hearing was held on July 25, 2012, and included testimony from Rickabaugh and a vocational expert ("VE"). (Tr. at 62-63) On August 22, 2012, the ALJ found that Rickabaugh had severe impairments of obesity, mild lumbar spine degenerative disc disease, alcoholism, depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia but was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and retained residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work. (Tr. at 206, 208) Rickabaugh requested a review of the decision on September 7, 2012, and the Appeals Council remanded the case back to the ALJ ion September 12, 2013. (Tr. at 224, 288) Another hearing was held on May 6, 2014, again involving testimony from Rickabaugh and a VE. (Tr. at 104-05) On August 8, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision with the same findings as had been reached after the previous hearing. (Tr. at 37, 4-3, 45) Rickabaugh requested another review of the decision on September 4, 2014, which was denied on February 4, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. at 1, 34)

         On April 4, 2016, Rickabaugh filed suit in the District of Delaware seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits. (See D.I. 1) The parties completed briefing on their cross-motions for summary judgment on November 29, 2016. (See D.I. 13, 15)

         B. Factual History

         When he applied for DIB and SSI, Rickabaugh was 33 years-old, had experienced the onset of his purported disability at age 32, and was defined as a younger individual under 20 C.F.R. § 416.963. (Tr. at 144) He has a ninth grade education and worked for short periods as a fast food worker, a cashier, a dishwasher, a store laborer/stocker, a pizza deliverer, a laundry laborer, a fork lift driver, an overhead crane operator, and a material handler. (Tr. at 110, 133) Rickabaugh asserted he is unable to work because of mental illness and a back injury.[2] (Tr. at 41).

         1. Mental Health History, Evaluations, and Treatment

         On July 22, 2010, Rickabaugh saw Toni Ballas-Rowe, L.C.S.W., for his mental health problems. (Tr. at 474) At the initial visit, Ballas-Rowe observed that Rickabaugh was cooperative; made eye contact; had auditory and visual hallucinations, delusions, impaired concentration and judgment; and appeared anxious, agitated, and paranoid. (Tr. at 478-79) She diagnosed Rickabaugh with paranoid schizophrenia and rated his Global Assessment Functioning ("GAF") score at 30, indicating severe symptoms. (Tr. at 479)

         On August 3, 2010, Rickabaugh started seeing nurse practitioner Heather Martin for treatment of his mental illness. (Tr. at 450) She determined that Rickabaugh was alert, cooperative, had normal eye contact, suffered from hallucinations and delusions, and had impaired concentration, judgment, impulse control, memory, and insight. (Tr. at 454) Nurse Martin diagnosed Rickabaugh with paranoid schizophrenia and rated his GAF score at 60, indicating mild to moderate symptoms. (Tr. at 455) She prescribed Zyprexa and Prozac for his schizophrenia. (Tr. at 455)

         Rickabaugh continued treatment with Nurse Martin throughout the rest of 2010. (Tr. at 448-49) From September to December 2010, Nurse Martin noted that Rickabaugh experienced fewer auditory and visual hallucinations and that his mood, insight, and judgment gradually improved to an average state. (Tr. at 448) Around the same time, Rickabaugh also continued meeting with Ballas-Rowe. (Tr. at 514-20) Ballas-Rowe likewise observed in September and October 2010 that Rickabaugh showed better concentration, better motivation, and seemed to be managing his delusions and hallucinations. (Tr. at 484-85) By December 2010, Rickabaugh's hallucinations were controlled although he continued to drink alcohol daily and to have delusions and anxiety. (Tr. at 519)

         On January 3, 2011, however, Nurse Martin observed that Rickabaugh had depression, auditory hallucinations, and paranoia. (Tr. at 540) Ballas-Rowe noted the same. (Tr. at 552) On February 2, 2011, Ballas-Rowe completed a mental impairment evaluation form for Rickabaugh, recorded a GAF score of 30, and opined that he was moderately limited in his ability to remember locations, carry out work-like procedures and simple one or two step instructions, interact with the general public, be aware of hazards and take precautions, and travel to unfamiliar places or use public transportation. (Tr. at 525-27) She also opined that Rickabaugh was markedly limited in his ability to understand and remember detailed instructions, maintain attention and concentration for extended periods, sustain an ordinary routine without supervision, work with or near others without being distracted by them, make simple work related decisions, accept criticism and respond appropriately to supervisors, get along with coworkers without distracting them, maintain appropriate social behavior, respond appropriately to changes in the work setting, and set realistic goals or make plans independently. (Tr. at 525-27, 582-83)

         In March 2011, Ballas-Rowe observed that despite the ongoing hallucinations and delusions, medication made Rickabaugh calmer and less anxious. (Tr. at 554) Nurse Martin continued treatment with Zyprexa, and in April 2011, although Rickabaugh still exhibited impaired insight and judgment, his hallucinations were controlled and he reported he felt better than he had in a long time. (Tr. at 539)

         On April 12, 2011, Nurse Martin completed a mental impairment evaluation for Rickabaugh, diagnosing him with paranoid schizophrenia and assigning him a GAF score of 55. (Tr. at 530) She opined that Rickabaugh was markedly limited in the following: ability to sustain an ordinary routine without supervision, work with or near others without being distracted by them, make simple work-related decisions, complete a normal workweek without psychological symptoms, appropriately interact with the general public, accept criticism and respond appropriately to supervisors, get along with coworkers without distracting them, respond appropriately to changes in the work setting, maintain socially appropriate behavior, be aware of hazards and take precautions, travel to unfamiliar places or use public transportation, and set realistic goals or make plans independently. (Tr. at 533-35) He was moderately limited in: ability to remember locations and work-like procedures, understand and remember detailed instructions, maintain attention and concentration for extended periods, perform within a schedule, maintain punctuality and attendance, and ask simple questions or request assistance. (Tr. at 533-35) Nurse Martin assessed mild limitations in ability to understand, remember, and carry out one or two step or detailed instructions. (Tr. at 533-35)

         On May 9, 2011, Nurse Martin continued treatment, noting that Rickabaugh was alert, calm, and cooperative with normal mood, affect, insight, and judgment. (Tr. at 538) In June 2011, however, Nurse Martin observed that Rickabaugh complained of ongoing hallucinations. (Tr. at 559) Ballas-Rowe also noted that Rickabaugh had hallucinations and that they prevented him from working. (Tr. at 556) In July 2011 though, she noted that treatment controlled the hallucinations. (Tr. at 578) By September 2011, Rickabaugh reported to Ballas-Rowe that he was having hallucinations and delusions only once or twice a month. (Tr. at 578)

         In March 2012, Rickabaugh reported to Ballas-Rowe that he was depressed, and in April 2012, he reported auditory hallucinations when he missed his treatment. (Tr. at 587, 589) By the next month, however, Rickabaugh's depression and anxiety again improved and he denied having hallucinations. (Tr. at 608).

         On May 3, 2012, Nurse Martin and David Kalkstein, M.D., Nurse Martin's supervisor, signed a letter, agreeing with Nurse Martin's April 12, 2011 mental impairment evaluation form. (Tr. at 590-91)

         Throughout the rest of 2012, Rickabaugh continued seeing Ballas-Rowe. (Tr. at 608-11, 618rl9) In October 2012, she noted that Rickabaugh was less depressed, drinking less alcohol, and showed improved concentration. (Tr. at 616) Still, in November 2012, Ballas-Rowe recorded that Rickabaugh's delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, depression, and anxiety prevented him from working. (Tr. at 617)

         From January 2013 to April 2013, Rickabaugh reported to Ballas-Rowe that he continued to experience occasional hallucinations but was mostly stable with his sleep, anxiety, and depression. (Tr. at 620-22) In June 2013, Rickabaugh stopped taking his medications. (Tr. at 623) By November 2013, his psychotic symptoms returned. (Tr. at 624) Ballas-Rowe then referred Rickabaugh to nurse practitioner Ihuoma Chuks. (Tr. at 636)

         On November 21, 2013, Rickabaugh established care with Nurse Chuks. (Tr. at 636) She evaluated Rickabaugh and found he had an anxious mood, blunt affect, poor insight, and hallucinations, diagnosing him with schizophrenia. (Tr. at 640-41) She assessed his GAF score at 60 and prescribed Ability for treatment. (Tr. at 641)

         On January 16, 2014, Nurse Chuks noted that Rickabaugh was feeling much better but still occasionally had hallucinations. (Tr. at 633) On January 27, 2014, Ballas-Rowe wrote that Rickabaugh's hallucinations and delusions were under control. (Tr. at 626) Similarly, Nurse Chuks noted the improvement in Rickabaugh (with fewer episodes of hallucinations, until May 2014). (Tr. at 629-32)

         In May 2014, Rickabaugh stopped his medication, and Nurse Chuks observed that Rickabaugh again had depression, anxiety, no motivation, paranoia, and hallucinations. (Tr. at 629)

         2. Medical Source Opinions

         a. Examining Consultant

         Donna Lentine, Ph.D., conducted a consultative mental health evaluation at the request of the Social Security Administration on November 17, ;2010. (Tr. at 498) Dr. Lentine noted that Rickabaugh had poor eye contact; irrational thoughts; hallucinations; poor sleep; anxiety; tangential thought process with poor concentration and focus; mild restlessness; feelings of anger and annoyance; negativity; and social isolation. (Tr. at 498-500) She assigned a GAF score of 35 and diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia, intermittent explosive disorder, and alcoholism in partial remission. (Tr. at 502) She concluded that Rickabaugh's ability to cope with ordinary work pressure was severely impaired; his ability to relate to others, carry out instructions under ordinary supervision, and sustain performance and ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.