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Bailey v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division, Dayton

March 28, 2018

TRACI C. BAILEY, Plaintiff,


          Sharon L. Ovington United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Traci C. Bailey applied for period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits, and Supplemental Security Income in June and July 2013, asserting that she could no longer work due to bipolar disorder, panic attacks, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Social Security Administration denied her claims initially and upon reconsideration. At Plaintiff's request, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Gregory G. Kenyon conducted a hearing where both she and a vocational expert testified. Shortly thereafter, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not eligible for benefits because she is not under a “disability” as defined in the Social Security Act. She brings this case challenging the Social Security Administration's denial of her applications.

         The case is before the Court upon Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (Doc. #7), the Commissioner's Memorandum in Opposition (Doc. #11), Plaintiff's Reply (Doc. #12), and the administrative record (Doc. #6).

         Plaintiff seeks a remand of this case for payment of benefits or, at a minimum, for further proceedings. The Commissioner asks the Court to affirm ALJ Kenyon's non-disability decision.

         II. Background

         Plaintiff asserts that she has been under a “disability” beginning on June 6, 2013. She was thirty-nine years old at that time and was therefore considered a “younger person” under Social Security Regulations. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(c), 416.963(c). She has a high school education with some college. See Id. §§ 404.1564(b)(4), 416.964(b)(4).[1]

         A. Plaintiff's Testimony

         Plaintiff testified at the hearing before ALJ Kenyon that she has bipolar disorder. (Doc. #6, PageID #92). She has mood swings that “happen periodically” about every three to four weeks. Id. She has “either manic or depressive” episodes. Id. Each one lasts three to four days; she does not know when they will occur or how long they will last. Id. at 92, 101. “The depressive episodes happen more often, but the manic episodes are more intense.” Id. During her depressive episodes, Plaintiff experiences fatigue and “rarely get[s] out of bed.” Id. at 93. “Housework goes to the wayside, ” and she lacks concentration and engagement in any kind of social situation. Id. She is also less likely to take showers. Id. at 97. In comparison, during manic episodes, Plaintiff stays awake for two or three days without sleeping. Id. at 94, 99. She has delusions: “I see that there's someone there that isn't there, but in my mind they are. And then I also have seen … my son's father who passed in 2002 …. I'll talk to him as if he's in the room, like he's there. And then I had a couple of times where I thought someone was there [but] I was told, then, later that [the person] wasn't even there.” Id. at 94. And, “They talk back to me.” Id.

         Plaintiff often has racing thoughts-“things just keep coming through my head. I can't relax…. I'm constantly thinking what if, worrying, anxiety, sometimes panic.” Id. at 95. She has panic attacks during which her heart races, she loses her breath, she cries, and she sometimes rocks. Id. The frequency of attacks varies-“Sometimes it could be [a] couple times a day and it could be a couple days.” Id. To calm down, she tries to take deep breaths and remove herself from the situation. Id. at 96. At least once a week, she has flashback episodes and nightmares about her ex-boyfriend who assaulted her. Id. at 96-97. She has crying spells every day or every other day. Id. at 98.

         Plaintiff has been seeing her psychiatrist, Dr. Stephanie Fitz, at South Community since 2003. Id. at 96. Typically, she sees her every four to six weeks, and “It's been about every four weeks … since she's been doing medication changes.” Id. Indeed, Dr. Fitz changes her medications “usually every month that [she] see[s] her.” Id. at 96, 99. Plaintiff explained that the medicine is helpful “at times.” Id. at 95. But, she has some side effects-weight gain and fatigue or sleepiness. Id. at 102.

         In the spring of 2013, Dr. Fitz spoke to Plaintiff about the possibility of low stress volunteer work to bolster her self-esteem. Id. at 100. However, “Because of the frequent changes in my medication, she suggested that I not try to pursue that because … she wanted to get me more stable.” Id.

         Since her last hearing in 2011, Plaintiff testified that her mental health status has become “increasingly worse.” Id. at 99. She has “more frequent episodes lasting somewhat longer.” Id. She experiences crying spells nearly every day or every other day. Id. at 98. She had social anxiety and no longer socializes with friends. Id.

         Plaintiff lives in a condo by herself. Id. at 91. She has a fourteen-year-old son who lives with his grandparents “most of the time.” Id. at 90-91. He spends a “couple nights” a week with her. Id. at 91. On an ordinary day, she wakes up and watches television. Id. at 98. Plaintiff has a driver's license but does not drive because she had trouble concentrating. Id. at 91. “The last few years I've had several accidents, and so the doctor and I came to an agreement that … I should probably stop driving.” Id. She leaves home “[m]aybe every three, four days.” Id. at 98. She goes to doctor's appointments, the grocery store, and, at night, to her parent's house to see her son. Id.

         B. Medical Opinions

         i. Stephanie Fitz, M.D.

         Dr. Fitz, Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, completed a mental impairment questionnaire on October 7, 2014. Id. at 623-26. She indicated that she had treated Plaintiff since 2003. Id. at 623. She diagnosed bipolar disorder and assigned a Global Assessment of Functioning score of 40. Id. Dr. Fitz opined that Plaintiff's impairments have lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. Id. at 624. When asked to identify her patient's signs and symptoms, she indicated that Plaintiff completed the responses. Id. at 623. The signs and symptoms Plaintiff identified include, for example, poor memory, emotional lability, recurrent panic attacks, suicidal ideation or attempts, perceptual disturbances, decreased energy, manic syndrome, and hostility/irritability. Id. Dr. Fitz opined that Plaintiff was extremely limited in 21 out of 25 areas of mental work-related functioning, including-but not limited to-her ability to maintain social functioning; work in coordination with or in proximity to others without being distracted by them or exhibiting extreme behavior; sustaining a normal routine without special supervision; and understanding, remembering, and carrying out short and simple instructions. Id. at 625-26. She concluded that Plaintiff would be absent from work more than three times per month. Id. at 624-25.

         ii. Frank Orosz, Ph.D., & Paul Tangeman, Ph.D.

         On August 5, 2013, Dr. Orosz reviewed Plaintiff's record. Id. at 131-38. He opined that Plaintiff had moderate restrictions in her activities of daily living; moderate difficulties in social functioning; moderate limitations in concentration, persistence and pace; and no episodes of decompensation of extended duration. Id. at 136. Dr. Orosz adopted the mental residual functional capacity from the prior ALJ's decision on January 26, 2012: “Full range of work at all exertional levels, simple to moderately complex tasks in a low stress work environment [without] fast ...

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