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Courtney v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 7, 2017

Carol G. Courtney, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Leslie A. Bowman United Suites Magistrate Judge

         The plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the final decision of the Commissioner for Social Security denying her application for disability insurance benefits. (Doc. 1)

         The Magistrate Judge presides over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) having received the written consent of both parties. (Doc. 15)

         The ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. His finding that Courtney's mental impairment is non-severe is supported by substantial evidence and free from legal error.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 16, 2014, Courtney filed for disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act. (Tr. 83) She alleged disability beginning on February 6, 2014, due to coronary artery disease, triple bypass surgery, three heart stents, anxiety with panic attacks, depression, diverticulitis, thyroid disease, recurring basal skin cancer, tongue surgery, and bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr. 28, 191) Her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 113-116; 119-121) Courtney requested review and appeared with an advocate at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Peter J. Baum on December 2, 2015. (Tr. 56) In his decision, dated December 28, 2015, the ALJ found Courtney was not disabled because she could return to her past work as an insurance customer service representative, insurance customer service supervisor, team supervisor, airline customer service representative, or union representative. (Tr. 28-39)

         Courtney submitted additional exhibits, but the Appeals Council denied review making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-5) Courtney subsequently filed this action for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1) She argues the ALJ erred by finding her mental impairments non-severe. (Doc. 21)

         Claimant's Work History and Medical History

         From August of 1996 to March of 2007, Courtney worked in the airline industry, first in customer service and afterwards as a union representative, team supervisor, and project supervisor. (Tr. 202) From May of 2007 to February of 2014, she worked in the insurance industry, first as a customer service representative, then as a customer service supervisor, and again as a customer service representative. Id.

         In 2011, Courtney had triple bypass heart surgery, which “she had difficulty recovering from.” (Tr. 388) Her mother died the previous year, and in November of 2013, her sister died, “whom she states was her primary source of support.” Id.

         These events caused a worsening of her mental health, and in February of 2014, she experienced an “emotional breakdown.” (Tr. 60) On February 6, 2014, she stopped work due to “panic attacks” and “anxiety.” (Tr. 61); (Tr. 608)

         In April of 2014, Courtney began psychiatric treatment with Tina LeMarque-Denisen, MA, MSW, LGSW. (Doc. 608) In May of 2014, Courtney attempted suicide by taking an overdose of lorazepam. (Tr. 388) She “felt increasingly alone and hopeless, [experiencing] general anhedonia, feeling sad, tearful[;] she stopped going to work feeling like it was just too much.” (Tr. 388) She had not been sleeping well, and she had been “overusing, or possibly abusing some of her Vicodin after her bypass surgery . . . .” (Tr. 388) Courtney was admitted to the Sonora Behavioral Health Hospital and was discharged after six days. (Doc. 388)

         Karen Floyd, D.O., offered the following diagnosis on discharge: “Axis I: Major depressive disorder, severe, without psychosis, Cocaine dependence in sustained remission, Opiate abuse; Axis II: Deferred; Axis III: Gastroesophageal reflux disease; Hyperlipidemia; CABG [Coronary artery bypass grafting] ¶ 3; Axis IV: Severe; Axis V: GAF (admission) = 25, GAF (discharge) = 50.” (Doc. 392)

         On June 16, 2014, Courtney filed for disability insurance benefits alleging disability beginning on February 6, 2014. (Tr. 28, 83, 191)

         In September of 2014, Raymond Novak, M.D., reviewed the medical record for the disability determination service and offered an opinion of Courtney's mental limitations. He diagnosed her with affective disorder and anxiety-related disorder. (Tr. 89-90) He evaluated her “B” listing criteria, which gauge the severity of her mental impairment. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520a(c)(3) (2011). He found Courtney has “mild” restrictions of her daily activities; “mild” difficulties in maintaining social functioning; “mild” difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace; and no evidence of decompensation. (Tr. 89) Novak further opined that the medical evidence did not establish the presence of the “C” criteria, which are an alternative gauge of the extent of her mental impairment. (Tr. 89) According to Novak, Courtney experienced a “crescendo” of psychosocial stressors, which resulted in her overdose. (Tr. 89-90) She has had an “uncomplicated [treatment] course since w/o any recurrence of [symptoms] and [is] receptive to ongoing [psychiatric] therapy and [shows] compliance to [psychiatric] med[ication] regimen.” (Tr. 90) He concluded Courtney's mental impairment was non-severe because it would not last 12 months. (Tr. 90)

         In March of 2015, Eugene Campbell, Ph.D., reevaluated Courtney's claim and affirmed Novak's opinion. (Tr. 103-105) According to Campbell, Courtney appeared “very good overall” in her recent mental health exam. (Tr. 104) She was responding to her psychiatric medication. Id. She “[h]ad also traveled out to Mexico and [] thought the trip was ‘spectacular.'” Id.; (Tr. 515)

         In September of 2014, J. Wright, M.D, reviewed the medical record for the disability determination service and offered an opinion of Courtney's physical limitations. Wright opined that Courtney could lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. (Tr. 91) She could sit, stand, and/or walk for 6 hours in an 8-hour day. (Tr. 91) She should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. (Tr. 91) She should only occasionally crawl or climb ramps or stairs. (Tr. 91) She should avoid concentrated exposures to extreme heat, extreme cold, humidity, fumes, and hazards. (Tr. 92) Wright's opinion suggests that Courtney can perform light work with some exceptions. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b).

         In March of 2015, Christopher Maloney, M.D., reevaluated the medical record and also found that Courtney can perform light work with some exceptions. (Tr. 106-08)

         In May of 2015, Tina LeMarque-Denison, M.A., M.S.W., L.C.S.W., completed a physical capacities evaluation of Courtney's ability to perform work related tasks. (Tr. 604) She opined Courtney could sit for one or two hours per day and stand or walk for one hour per day. Id. She could not use her hands for fine manipulations, repetitive motion tasks, ...


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