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Hakala v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

April 27, 2017

ALICIA MARIE PERRY HAKALA, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          BARBARA B. CRABB District Judge.

         Plaintiff Alicia Marie Perry Hakala is seeking review of a final decision by defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, denying her claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff contends that she has been disabled since June 30, 2010 because of numerous impairments, including bipolar disorder, panic disorder, borderline personality disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, major depression, anxiety distress disorder, agoraphobia, obesity and back pain.

         On appeal, plaintiff argues that the administrative law judge erred by (1) relying too heavily on plaintiff's daily activities in making a credibility assessment; and (2) failing to give adequate consideration to the opinion of Joanna Green, a social worker who treated plaintiff. For the reasons discussed below, I am remanding the case because I conclude that the administrative law judge did not give an adequate explanation of his reasons for concluding that plaintiff's daily activities undermined her credibility.

         The following facts are drawn from the administrative record (AR).

         RECORD FACTS

         A. Background

         Plaintiff Alicia Marie Perry Hakala was born on June 27, 1987, making her 27 years old at the time of the most recent administrative hearing on May 12, 2015. AR 33-34. Plaintiff has three minor children. AR 36. She left high school in tenth grade and received her GED in June 2005. AR 34-35. Initially, plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of February 1, 2011, but late, she r amended the date to June 30, 2010. AR 325. She alleges numerous impairments, including bipolar disorder, panic disorder, borderline personality disorder, PTSD, major depression, anxiety distress disorder, agoraphobia, obesity and back pain. Plaintiff has worked at several jobs in the past but has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her disability onset date. AR 12-13.

         B. Medical Record

         On December 17, 2010, plaintiff received a diagnostic assessment at the Human Development Center. Her diagnosis was recurrent severe major depressive disorder and anxiety disorder. AR 528. The examining psychologist recommended outpatient psychotherapy, support from an adult rehabilitative mental health services (ARMH) worker and further psychological evaluation. AR 530. On February 15, 2011, plaintiff returned to the Human Development center for a psychological evaluation. Her diagnosis was mood disorder NOS (not otherwise specified), probable PTSD, substance dependency and borderline personality disorder. AR 535.

         On July 14, 2011, plaintiff had a psychiatric assessment at Nystrom & Associates, Ltd. AR 507-13. Notes from this assessment indicate that plaintiff had begun taking Effexor to treat her depression immediately after the birth of her third child in June 2011. Id. Plaintiff did not believe Effexor was helping her symptoms, which at that time included anger, depression, mood swings, suicidal thoughts, cutting and anxiety. Id.

         On November 19, 2011, the Social Security Administration referred plaintiff to Dr. Lyle Wagner for a consultive examination. AR 517-22. Wagner's diagnosis was recurrent moderate major depressive disorder without psychotic features, PTSD, anxiety disorder NOS and alcohol and cannabis abuse in full sustained remission. AR 521. In his opinion, plaintiff appeared capable of concentrating on moderate to complex instructions and remembering them. Id. He also concluded that plaintiff might have difficulty completing tasks at a reasonable pace and managing stress and pressure in a work environment as a result of depression and anxiety. Id. On a scale of 1 to 10, plaintiff rated her depression level as 7 and stated that she felt hopeless, helpless, irritable and angry. AR 519. She reported daily symptoms of anxiety, including fear and difficulty breathing in busy stores or places. AR 520. With regard to her PTSD, plaintiff described a traumatic history that gave rise to several symptoms, including nightmares, flashbacks and fear of relationships. Id. She stated that she cooks for her family, completes household chores, enjoys crocheting and occasionally attends AA meetings. AR 519. She reported getting along “poorly” with past coworkers and female supervisors and “average” with male supervisors. Id.

         Plaintiff began seeing Joanna Green, MSW, LCSW, on a semi-weekly basis in September 2012. AR 821. It was Green's treating opinion as of July 2, 2013, that plaintiff had bipolar disorder NOS, PTSD, panic disorder with agoraphobia, borderline personality disorder, obesity, high blood pressure and migraines. Id. Green noted more than 20 symptoms that she thought would impair plaintiff's occupational, social and family functioning. Id. She also noted marked limitation in daily activities, social functioning and maintaining concentration, persistence and pace. AR 823. In her opinion, plaintiff was likely to experience one or two episodes of decompensation in a 12-month period and her impairments would be likely to cause her to miss work more than four days a month. AR 824.

         In a second treating opinion dated April 7, 2015, Green stated that plaintiff's response to psychotherapy was varied. AR 1077. According to the opinion, “[plaintiff] will improve and then significantly decompensate due to current life stressors.” Id. Green also stated that plaintiff was extremely limited in daily activities and social functioning and moderately limited in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace. AR 1079. She thought that plaintiff was likely to experience four or more episodes of decompensation in a 12-month period. Id.

         On May 27, 2013, plaintiff was hospitalized after attempting to overdose with prescription medication during an argument with her ex-boyfriend. AR 817. While in the emergency room, plaintiff texted her friend to say she would find another way to kill herself once she was released from the hospital. Id. Plaintiff was admitted to the intensive care unit for one day and then transferred to the behavioral health unit until her discharge on May 30. AR 801, 806. Plaintiff later admitted she did not intend to commit suicide and was “trying to prove a point to her ex-boyfriend.” AR 811.

         On December 11, 2014, plaintiff participated in a pain management consultation to address her chronic back pain. AR 885-90. The consultation notes state that plaintiff was functionally limited by midthoracic back pain and morbid obesity. AR 888. Plaintiff's depression was reportedly controlled with Effexor. Id. She was enrolled in the pain management program, which offered a number of services, including physical therapy, occupational therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, to address her physical and mental health needs. AR 888-89.

         C. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on July 29, 2011. AR 91. Her application was denied on November 30, 2011, and her request for reconsideration was denied on March 9, 2012. AR 167, 177. Plaintiff then filed a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge on May 7, 2012. A hearing was held occurred before administrative law judge Mattie Harvin-Wood on August 7, 2013. AR 183, 206. The administrative law judge concluded that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform medium work and determined that plaintiff was able to perform her previous job as a personal care assistant. AR 149, 155.

         Plaintiff requested review of the administrative law judge's decision on October 18, 2013. AR 241. On December 22, 2014, the Appeals Council vacated and remanded the decision for (1) failing to consider Green's treating opinion; and (2) finding that plaintiff was able to perform ...


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