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Francis v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 1, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Kelly Lynn Francis, Bethany Beach, Delaware; Pro Se Plaintiff.

          Eric P. Kressman, Regional Counsel, Region III, and Annie Kemicky, Assistant Deputy Regional Counsel, Office of the Regional Chief, Social Security Administration, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; David C. Weiss, United States Attorney for the District of Delaware, Wilmington, Delaware; Heather Benderson, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Attorneys for Defendant.



         Plaintiff, Kelly Lynn Francis ("Plaintiff'), who appears pro se, appeals the decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill ("Commissioner"), Acting Commissioner of Social Security, denying her application for supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 -1383f. The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Pending before the Court are cross motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff and the Commissioner. (D.I. 19, 20). Plaintiff has requested a hearing. (D.I. 26). Briefing is complete.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural and Factual Background

         Plaintiff filed for SSI benefits on April 29, 2014, alleging disability as of January 2, 2004 due to bipolar disorder, depression, impulse control disorder, and dysthymia. (D.I. 10-4 at2; 10-6at2-7). Plaintiff was bom on November 14, 1968 (D.I. 10-6 at2) and at all relevant times is considered a "younger person" under the Social Security Act. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c). Plaintiff left school after sixth grade (D.I. 10-2 at 83), and her education is defined as marginal under the regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.964(b)(2).

         Plaintiffs application was denied initially on August 14, 2014, and upon reconsideration on October 3, 2014. (D.I. 10-4 at 2-24). She requested an administrative hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), and it was held on June 20, 2016. (DJ. 10-3 at 77-108). Testimony was provided by Plaintiff and vocational expert ("VE") Marilyn Stroud. The ALJ issued a decision on July 1, 2016, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (D.I. 10-2 at 63-71). She sought review by the Appeals Council, submitted additional evidence, and her request was denied on August 3, 2017, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 2-5). On August 25, 2017, Plaintiff filed this action seeking review of the final decision. (D.I. 2).

         B. Plaintiffs Testimony

         Plaintiff lives alone. (D.I. 10-2 at 90, 93, 101). She completed the sixth grade and can write a little and read a little but does not read books. (D.I. 10-2 at 83, 97-99). She can do simple math and make change. (Id. at 98). She has a driver's license. (Id. at 86). She takes the trolley to physician visits. (Id. at 86-87). She does her own shopping but does not cook. (Id. at 86, 100). She uses the microwave. (Id. at 100). Plaintiff takes care of her personal hygiene and has no trouble dressing herself. (Id.).

         She is able to keep the house clean and cleans the bathroom and kitchen daily. (Id. at 93-93). Plaintiff explained she has OCD and awakens at 2:00 to clean the kitchen, the bathroom, and returns to clean either the kitchen or the bathroom or something she has already cleaned. (Id. at 93-94).

         Plaintiff testified that in 2004 she worked at a Starbucks serving coffee. (D.I. 10-2 at 82). She was fired due to anger issues. (Id. at 83). She looked for other work after that and was employed for one week before being fired for arguing and fighting. (Id. at 84-85).

         Plaintiff testified that she has no friends since her parents died, and her husband does not live with her because he could no longer deal with her. (Id. at 85). Plaintiff testified that during the past several years when her parents had become ill she helped care for them before they died. (Id. at 91 -92). She pushed her father in a wheelchair and bathed and fed her mother. (Id. at 92). Plaintiff testified that she "got frustrated with her mother and would scream at her. (Id.). Plaintiff explained she became frustrated easily and gave the example of being unable to find something. (Id. at 93).

         Plaintiff sees a psychiatrist for her mental health conditions of depression, explosiveness, and repetitive activities such as cleaning. (Id. at 87-88). Plaintiff testified that she has anxiety which "makes [her] have like panic attacks a little bit." (Id. at 96). She is on a number of medications including Klonopin, Lamictal, and Oxcarbazepine. (Id. at 88). Plaintiff testified that the medications do not really help. (Id. at 89). Sometimes the medications cause her to be jittery, nauseous, and hyper. (Id. at 89). Plaintiff testified that she sleeps 16 hours a day because depression takes over. (Id. at 90). She testified that her concentration is not very good but explained it is more of a memory problem. (Id. at 96). When questioned more, she indicated she did not have a concentration problem. (Id. at 97).

         Plaintiff testified that she stays home every day and has stayed at home for "months." (Id. at 95). She testified she has missed doctors' appointments and she procrastinates. (Id.). She testified that when she leaves her home she worries about what is going on there. (Id. at 96). Plaintiff tried working from home but that did not work out because she "got frustrated with it" and agitated. (Id. at 96).

         Plaintiff testified that she did not think she could work as a caretaker or a sitter because she gets frustrated and mad. (Id. at 92). Plaintiff testified that she did not think she could clean for a living because she does not get along with other people. (Id. at 94). When asked if she could clean for a living if she cleaned with no one around, Plaintiff answered, "I don't think so," but did not know why and then testified that she did not like to leave her home. (Id. at 94). Plaintiff testified that she could not work at Starbucks again because she does not get along well with other people. (Id. at 98).

         C. Plaintiff's Medical History, Condition, and Treatment

         Plaintiff began treatment with Shashikala Venkatachalapathy, M.D. ("Dr. Venkatachalapathy") on February 19, 2014. (D.I. 10-9 at 3, 5-6). At that time Plaintiff indicated she had been depressed, irritable, and had been having mood swings. (Id. at 3). She reported that she had been having panic attacks that brought her to the emergency room three to four times in the past couple months. (Id. at 5). Dr. Venkatachalapathy noted that Plaintiff was negative for aggressive verbal or physical behavior. (Id.). She observed Plaintiff was fully oriented, alert, focused and cooperative; and had good hygiene, normal thought content and cognition, good insight, good judgment, and above average intelligence by estimate, despite having rapid speech and a depressed and anxious mood. (Id. at 6). Dr. Venkatachalapathy diagnosed Plaintiff with bipolar disorder, impulse control disorder unspecified, and intermittent explosive disorder, and she prescribed medication. (Id.).

         When Dr. Venkatachalapathy saw Plaintiff on March 12, 2014, she added the diagnosis dysthymic disorder, but the diagnosis was omitted at later visits. (Id. at 8). Her symptoms remained the same, but Plaintiff had stopped taking the medication because she felt too tired and lethargic when taking them. (Id. at 7). Dr. Venkatachalapathy saw Plaintiff on a somewhat regular basis, occasionally adjusted Plaintiffs medications, and made consistent observations regarding Plaintiffs mental status, which included that Plaintiff had good hygiene and that Plaintiff was cooperative and focused. (D.I. 10-9 at 7-12, 45-50; D.I. 10-14 at 17; D.I. 10-15 at 55).

         Dr. Venkatachalapathy completed a mental functional capacity assessment on July 2, 2014, and diagnosed Plaintiff with bipolar disorder and intermittent explosive disorder, fair prognosis. (D.I. 10-9 at 14-16). In the area of sustained concentration and persistence, Dr. Venkatachalapathy assessed marked limitations in Plaintiffs ability to work in coordination with or in proximity to coworkers, supervisors, or the general public, and in the area of social interaction Dr. Venkatachalapathy assessed marked limitation in Plaintiffs ability to respond appropriately to criticism. (Id. at 14-15). She opined the conditions were long term, but undiagnosed and untreated. (Id. at 16).

         On August 5, 2014, Plaintiff underwent a consultative examination performed by Margaret Goodwin, Ph.D. ("Dr. Goodwin"). (D.I. 10-9 at 17-23). Dr. Goodwin diagnosed Plaintiff with bipolar II disorder and ruled out obsessive compulsive personality disorder. (Id. at 23). Dr. Goodwin opined that Plaintiff had mild to moderately severe impairments as follows: mild in the ability to understand simple, primarily oral, instructions; moderate in the restriction of daily activities; and moderately severe in the ability to relate to other people, carry out instructions under ordinary supervision, sustain work performance and attendance in a normal work-setting, cope with pressures of ordinary work, and perform routine, repetitive tasks under ordinary supervision. (Id. at 18-19).

         Plaintiff described symptoms of anxiety and depression, trouble staying focused, frequent mood swings, and anxiety attacks one or twice a week. (Id. at 21). She indicated she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. (Id.). Dr. Goodwin reported that Plaintiff scored at the clinically significant level in the areas of anxiety/depression, attention problems, thought problems, aggressive behavior, somatic complaints, withdrawal, rule-breaking behavior, and intrusiveness. (Id. at 22). ...

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