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Terri L. Sproul v. Michael J. Astrue

February 17, 2012

TERRI L. SPROUL,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irma E. Gonzalez, Chief Judge United States District Court

ORDER: (1) GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, [Doc. No. 12]; and (2) DENYING DEFENDANT'S CROSS-MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, [Doc. No. 15].

Currently before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment. Having considered the parties' arguments, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's motion and DENIES Defendant's cross-motion.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Terri L. Sproul alleges disability due to fibromyalgia, severe joint pain in both feet, anxiety, and depression. She was 44 years old as of December 31, 2010-the date she last met the insured status requirements under the Social Security Act ("SSA"). Ms. Sproul completed twelve grades of education, but never received a high school diploma or a GED. Prior to the onset of the medical conditions that form the basis of her disability request, she was a property manager of multiple-unit buildings from 1994 to 2004, and a dishwasher at a local restaurant for about six months afterwards. She also worked part-time teaching scrapbooking techniques.

Ms. Sproul filed an application for disability insurance benefits in November 2006, alleging a disability onset date of September 29, 2006. (Administrative Record ("AR") at 151-57.) The claim was denied initially on April 10, 2007, and upon reconsideration on August 14, 2007. (Id. at 72-76, 81-85.) A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on March 25, 2009, with Ms. Sproul being represented by counsel. Also appearing and testifying at the hearing were Lawrence Sherman, M.D., an impartial medical expert, and Gloria J. Lasoff, an impartial vocational expert. On July 14, 2009, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, finding that Ms. Sproul retained the residual functional capacity to perform a slightly reduced range of exertionally light work, including her past relevant work as property manager or, alternatively, the additional unskilled, light jobs of production inspector, production assembler, or machine packager, and that she therefore was not disabled. (Id. at 12-25.) By notice dated March 14, 2011, the Appeals Council denied Ms. Sproul's request to set aside the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 1-5.)

I. Relevant medical evidence of record

A. Dr. Ansari

Dr. Rashad Ansari was Ms. Sproul's treating rheumatologist. Ms. Sproul first saw Dr. Ansari on November 8, 2006. At that time, Dr. Ansari noted that Ms. Sproul had a history of Grave's disease, and that she came to him with complaints of "sudden onset of severe fatigue and pain all over." (Id. at 339-40.) Ms. Sproul described her pain as 7 out of 10 generally, and becoming 9 out of 10 with activity. (Id. at 339.) Dr. Ansari noted that Ms. Sproul appeared to move with difficulty, and that her musculoskeletal exam was significant for diffuse hypermobility. (Id. at 341-42.) On December 14, 2006, Dr. Ansari noted that Ms. Sproul came to him "angry and in tears" because of her inability to return to work or even drive due to the constant fatigue. (Id. at 348.) Medications prescribed during the past two visits were not working. (Id.) At this time, Dr. Ansari noted that he would "support disability for one year." (Id.)

On March 13, 2009, Dr. Ansari completed a "Fibromyalgia Impairment Questionnaire" as to Ms. Sproul. (Id. at 540-45.) In the questionnaire, he noted that in addition to fibromyalgia, Ms. Sproul had been diagnosed with hypermobility, a congenital foot disorder, and a history of Grave's disease. (Id. at 540.) He affirmed that she met the American Rheumatological criteria for fibromyalgia, and that the clinical findings consisted of 15 out of 22 tender points, severe pain in the joints, and foot deformity. (Id.) Based on the foregoing, Dr. Ansari estimated that, in an eight-hour workday, Ms. Sproul could sit no more than four hours and stand or walk no more than one hour, with the need to get up and move around every hour for five minutes, and lift and carry no more than ten pounds occasionally. (Id. at 543.) He estimated she would be incapable of tolerating even a "low stress" work environment, and noted that chronic anxiety was one of her functional limitations. (Id. at 544.) He noted that she would need to take unscheduled 10-minute breaks hourly, and that she would likely miss more than three workdays a month. (Id.) He also noted the following additional limitations: psychological limitations, and no pushing, pulling, kneeling, bending, or stooping. (Id. at 544-45.) Finally, when asked whether he thought Ms. Sproul was a malingerer, Dr. Ansari hand-wrote: "uncertain." (Id. at 542.)

In a letter dated September 20, 2010, which was after the ALJ's decision in this case, Dr. Ansari affirmed his treatment of Ms. Sproul since November 2006, noted that her symptoms of fatigue have been unrelenting over the past four years, and opined that she remained "completely disabled" by her severe fatigue. (Id. at 610.)

B. Dr. Freyne

Dr. Brigid Freyne was Ms. Sproul's treating rheumatologist. She first saw Ms. Sproul on January 18, 2007. She noted that Ms. Sproul came to her with complaints of fatigue, poor memory, poor sleep, and tender points present. (Id. at 359.) Dr. Freyne's diagnosis was fibromyalgia and hypertension. (Id.) Dr. Freyne continued to see Ms. Sproul every month thereafter at least through February 2008. (See id. at 393-400, 499-509). In a letter dated April 27, 2007, Dr. Freyne affirmed her treatment of Ms. Sproul for fibromyalgia and opined that it rendered her "totally disabled" and "unable to work for the next year." (Id. at 391.)

On July 9, 2007, Dr. Freyne completed a "Multiple Impairment Questionnaire" as to Ms. Sproul. (Id. at 404-11.) She affirmed that Ms. Sproul had fibromyalgia, and listed 18 out of 18 tender points as the clinical findings supporting the diagnosis. (Id. at 404-05.) She noted that Ms. Sproul had "constant, burning, aching" pain "all over body." (Id. at 405.) She opined that, in an eight-hour workday, Ms. Sproul could only sit up to five hours and stand or walk up to one hour a day, with the need to get up and move around every hour for 10 to 15 minutes. (Id. at 406-07.) Dr. Freyne opined that Ms. Sproul could lift or carry no more than five pounds frequently and no more than twenty pounds occasionally, and that she had moderate limitations on her ability to perform fine and gross manipulations and to reach. (Id. at 407-08.) She noted that Ms. Sproul's symptoms would frequently interfere with her attention and concentration, that she was incapable of tolerating even a "low stress" environment, and that her symptoms would likely increase in a competitive work environment. (Id. at 408-09.) According to Dr. Freyne, Ms. Sproul would likely need to take unscheduled 10 to 15-minute breaks every two to three hours, and she would likely miss more than three workdays a month. (Id. at 409-10.) Finally, in response to whether she thought Ms. Sproul was a malingerer, Dr. Freyne responded "no." (Id. at 409.)

In February 2008, Ms. Sproul still complained of extreme fatigue, headaches, and muscular pain and stiffness. (Id. at 499.) She requested permanent disability from Dr. Freyne and became angry when Dr. Freyne replied that this was "not medically recommended." (Id.) At this time, Dr. Freyne also encouraged Ms. Sproul to seek part time work in a low stress environment. (Id.)

C. Dr. Fajerman

Dr. Leon Fajerman was Ms. Sproul's treating psychiatrist. Ms. Sproul obtained mental health treatment from him every two to three months since February 26, 2008. In a letter dated April 15, 2009, Dr. Fajerman opined that the addition of anxiety and sadness to Ms. Sproul's diagnosis of fibromyalgia "creates further limitations in her functioning and capacity to work." (Id. at 598.) He noted that Ms. Sproul was "easily overwhelmed" and "insecure." (Id.) Based on these symptoms, Dr. Fajerman diagnosed Ms. Sproul as having an anxiety disorder with panic attacks. (Id.) On April 15, 2009, Dr. Fajerman also completed a "Psychiatric/Psychological Impairment Questionnaire" as to Ms. Sproul, noting that she suffered from an anxiety disorder with depressive features. (Id. at 601-08.) He assessed Ms. Sproul's Global Assessment Functioning ("GAF") at 70.*fn1 (Id. at 601.) He opined that Ms. Sproul was "moderately limited" in her abilities to: maintain attention and concentration; to perform activities within a schedule; to maintain regular attendance and be punctual; to complete a normal work week without interruptions from her psychological symptoms; to perform at a consistent pace without rest periods of unreasonable length and frequency; to interact appropriately with the general public; to accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism; to get along with co-workers; and to travel to unfamiliar places or use public transportation. (Id. at 604-06.)

D. Dr. Rodriguez

On March 26, 2007, Ms. Sproul was examined by Dr. Romualdo Rodriguez, a psychiatrist, at the request of the State agency. (Id. at 363-69.) Dr. Rodriguez noted that Ms. Sproul's chief complaint to him was regarding depression and anxiety. (Id. at 363.) He also noted that she became "briefly tearful in complaining about the chronic pain which she feels doesn't allow her to work anymore." (Id. at 364.) In describing Ms. Sproul's daily activity, Dr. Rodriguez indicated that she was able to take care of household chores, cooking, going to the store, and running errands. (Id. at 365.) According to Dr. Rodriguez, Ms. Sproul could also take care of self-dressing, bathing, and personal hygiene. (Id.) Dr. Rodriguez calculated Ms. Sproul's GAF at 65. (Id. at 368.) He opined that Ms. Sproul was able to understand, remember, and carry out simple one or two-step instructions, and to do detailed and complex instructions. (Id.) According to him, Ms. Sproul was also minimally limited in her ability to: relate and interact with supervisors, co-workers, and the public; maintain concentration and attention, persistence and pace; associate with day-to-day work activity, including attendance and safety; adapt to stressors common to a normal work environment; ...


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