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Peterson v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 11, 2014

Susan Wells Peterson, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


BERNARDO P. VELASCO, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Susan Wells Peters, filed this action for review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The United States Magistrate Judge presides over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 (c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, having received the written consent of both parties.


Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") on May 21, 2010, with a protective filing date of May 13, 2010, alleging an onset of disability beginning November 5, 2006 due to post-traumatic stress disorder, severe anxiety, fibromyalgia and depression. Transcript/Administrative Record ("Tr.") 22, 183-186, 200, 204. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 72, 83. A hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") was held on July 25, 2011, and was continued to September 21, 2011. Tr. 35-71. The ALJ issued a decision on October 24, 2011, finding Plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Tr. 19-30. This decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied review. Tr. 1-3.

Plaintiff then commenced this action for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1) After considering the record before the Court and the parties' briefing of the issues, the Court reverses Defendant's decision and remands for an immediate award of benefits.


A. Plaintiff's Background and Statements in the Record

Plaintiff was thirty-one years of age at the date of alleged onset, with a GED and two years of college and past relevant work as a correctional officer, customer service representative and manager of a coffee shop. Tr. 200, 205.

Plaintiff testified at her hearing before the ALJ on July 25, 2011, continued to September 21, 2011, that she had not worked since November, 2008 after she was sexually assaulted while working as a correctional officer at an Arizona State Prison Tr. 59, 61-62. Plaintiff testified that she had no history of any mental health issues, depression, anxiety or posttraumatic stress, (Tr. 62) but, as a result of the sexual assault:

It's made everything really difficult. Even thoughts of suicide. Not wanting to be around my own family. I don't like being around a lot of people. I get high anxiety. I get, I don't like being around men. I forget a lot of stuff. I leave things on the stove and I forget to turn them off. I'm so forgetful that I even forget my prescriptions at my, Dr. [Reckart's] office. I don't know how to drive anymore. I get nightmares. I get mad at myself and I close down and then I, I find myself snapping at my kids and I don't want to be like that."

Tr. 63. Plaintiff has four children, aged 15, 12, 10, and two months old. Tr. 57. She cares primarily for the baby during the day, and her older children are mostly self-sufficient. Tr. 57. Plaintiff testified that she gets only two to four hours of sleep a night, interrupted by nightmares, has trouble reading and concentrating, and is overly emotional. Tr. 64. She does not think she could return to any of her past work because she can't concentrate and her anxiety is too high, she couldn't function or cope with long hours and tasks. Tr. 68. She usually spends her day in her pajamas and stays in her bedroom. Tr. 66. She gets panic attacks from one to three times a week. Tr. 67. She takes classes part-time at Pima Community College with a goal of getting a degree as a registered nurse. Tr. 38. Plaintiff hopes to go back to work and have a career in the future. Tr. 62.

Plaintiff was under the care of Leslie Morato and Dr. Marla Reckart, and was previously taking medications for mental health problems, including Celexa, Trazodone, Risperdal, Alprazolam, and Zoloft, but, at the time of the hearing, because she was breastfeeding her newborn, she was on different antidepressants and sleep medications. Tr. 65. When she takes these medications, she has side effects consisting of drowsiness, stuffy nose, dry mouth, headaches, nausea, and constipation. Tr. 66.

A vocational expert ("VE") testified that Plaintiff's past relevant work as a correction officer was medium exertion work, and semi-skilled; as an assistant manager of a retail establishment was light exertion work and skilled; and her work in customer service was light exertion work and semi-skilled. Tr. 42. The VE testified that if Plaintiff had no exertional limits but with nonexertional limits of limited contact with the public, and a job that has no more than moderate stress, she could work as a janitor cleaner, courier messenger, and in production assembly as a wrapper. Tr. 42-43.

The VE testified that, considering the limitations from Dr. Reckart's records, Plaintiff could not return to her work as a correctional officer, and would not be able to perform the jobs as janitor cleaner, courier messenger, and wrapper. Tr. 45. The VE agreed that the marked and moderate restrictions noted by Dr. Reckart would preclude any job that exists in reasonable numbers in the national economy. Tr. 45. The marked restrictions in completing a workday or week without interruption would preclude employment because she would not be able to maintain employment with absences. Tr. 45. A marked restriction in the ability to accept instruction and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors would also preclude employment. Tr. 46. If Plaintiff were homebound, and can't or won't leave her home, she couldn't work for an employer in the outside sector. Tr. 46.

B. Relevant Medical Evidence ...

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