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MARTIN v. APFEL

August 30, 2000

VELMA J. MARTIN, PLAINTIFF,
V.
KENNETH S. APFEL, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Facciola, United States Magistrate Judge.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

Pursuant to Local Civil Rule 72.3, this matter has been referred to me, a Magistrate Judge, for the purpose of hearing and recommendation. I, therefore, hereby issue this Report and Recommendation based upon my review of the administrative determination in this case.

Facts

Ms. Velma J. Martin ("Martin") is a 64 year-old former secretary. She last worked in the Spring of 1993. Administrative Record at 54 ("R."). Her health has deteriorated since that time. She suffers from a number of physical and psychological ailments which she claims that her render her disabled under 42 U.S.C. § 423 (1994) and therefore entitle her to Supplemental Security Benefits and Disability Insurance Benefits. The Social Security Administration denied her initial application for benefits. On appeal of that decision, her claim was remanded by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") to a state agency for reconsideration of her condition due to new evidence of a mental impairment. (R. at 253-255.) She was denied benefits by the agency and appealed that decision to another ALJ (R. at 274, 282.) The second ALJ held a hearing in which a vocational expert testified that there was no work Martin could perform. The ALJ nevertheless concluded that Martin was capable of performing medium work resuming her former work as a secretary. (R. at 27-31). Martin applied to have the decision reviewed by an Appeals Council pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.970 and 416.1470 (2000). The Council denied review. (R. at 6.) Martin then filed this civil action against the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g) and 1383(c)(3) (1994) to receive the denied benefits.

Medical Evidence of Physical Impairment

Ms. Martin has had two treating physicians in the past ten years. (R. at 226.) She transferred from the care of Dr. Henry Williams to that of Dr. Lewis Marshall on February 1, 1994. (R. at 226.) According to Dr. Marshall, Martin complained of migratory joint pain, recurrent infections, chronic hypertension, hiatal hernia, and myalgias. (R. at 228.)

Dr. Joel Taubin, a medical examiner for the Social Security Administration, examined Martin on October 10, 1993, after she first applied for Social Security disability benefits. (R. at 165.) He diagnosed "no hypertension" and believed that the patient's hiatal hernia was well controlled. (R. at 167.) He did not find any major respiratory symptoms, but did diagnose minor bronchial problems which occasionally cause wheezing when she was exposed to damp or cold weather (R. at 165.) He also found minor arthritis in the knee and elbow and chostochondritis of the shoulder (R. at 167.) He made no findings as to disability or depression. He did find that Martin could both walk and sit without any difficulties other than those caused by her bronchial problems. (R. at 168.)

When Martin's case was remanded for consideration of mental ailments, Dr. Gary Koritzinsky examined Martin for the Social Security Administration. (R. at 357.) The consultation took place on September 13, 1995. In contrast to Dr. Taubin, Dr. Koritzinsky found that Martin did not have an arthritic impairment. (R. at 359.) He did find, however, that Martin suffered from obstructive airways disease. (R. at 360.) He further concluded that Martin suffered from hypertension, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthralgias, and depression. (R. at 360.) He opined that Martin "may want to consider formal psychiatric evaluation to determine whether her depression and chronic fatigue meet criteria for disability." (R. at 360.)

Medical Evidence of Psychological Impairment

According to Drs. Marshall and Koritzinsky, Martin suffers from depression. (R. at 228, 360.) From 1994 through 1996, Martin underwent two psychiatric examinations and testing with a psychologist to determine the affect of her mental ailments on her ability to maintain substantial gainful employment.

On August 29, 1994, Doctor Richard Ratner held an extended psychiatric interview with Martin. (R. at 247.) Subsequent to the interview, Dr. Ratner administered a Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory ("MCMI-II") (R. at 247.) This test is used for psychological examination and screening and is scored on a computer. (R. at 247.) The doctor based his findings on both the psychiatric interview and the Millon test. (R. at 247.)

During the mental status interview, the doctor noted that Martin was oriented to all spheres, alert, and attentive. (R. at 250.) She could repeat six numbers forward, five numbers backward, and perform "serial sevens" without error. (R. at 250.) Dr. Ratner found her of at least normal intelligence. (R. at 250.) She appeared situationally depressed and there appeared to be no signs suggestive of a thought disorder or of delusions or paranoia. (R. at 250.) The mental status interview thus revealed a non-psychotic woman with no evidence of organic deterioration who tended to focus on her physical problems. (R. at 250.)

The MCMI-II psychological test, by contrast, revealed markedly different results than the mental status interview. (R. at 251.) The MCMI-II test found Martin's condition consistent with a paranoid disorder, having ideas of "reference" and irrational jealousy. (R. at 251.) She appeared to have an anxiety disorder and a somatoform disorder. (R. at 251.) Dr. Ratner found that she presented a "difficult case in which the clinical picture appears benign . . . while the psychological testing reveals a very disturbed woman who must work hard to keep the lid on her powerful and troubling emotions." (R. at 251.) Dr. Ratner concluded that Martin was probably disabled for useful work and appeared to have been for the past year.

On August 21, 1995, Dr. Richard Schaengold conducted a consultative psychiatric exam of Martin for the Social Security Administration. (R. at 354.) Martin performed some of the same recitation and memory exercises with Dr. Schaengold as she had with Dr. Ratner. (R. at 355.) Dr. Schaengold did not at any time perform any diagnostic testing of Martin.

Based on clinical examination, Dr. Schaengold found Martin cooperative, of above average intelligence, and lacking any signs of an underlying thought disorder or delusions. (R. at 355.) He noted that her prognosis was difficult because most of her problems were described as physical ailments. (R. at 355.) Further, he diagnosed her as likely to have a somatization disorder. (R. at 355.) In the doctor's psychiatric opinion, Martin seemed capable of reasonable adaptation. (R. at 356.)

Martin underwent a series of diagnostic psychological tests on August 2, 1996, administered by Dr. Ronald Wynne. (R. at 385.) Dr. Wynne used behavioral and interview observations, Human Figure Drawings, the Beck Depression Scale, a Coolidge Axis II Inventory ("CATI"), the Rorschach test, and the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale with a vocabulary subtest to evaluate Martin. (R. at 385.) Dr. Wynne found Martin to be cooperative, motivated to share her thoughts and feelings, and of at least average intelligence. (R. at 386.) However, he also observed "a highly strung manner of expressing herself, as though experiencing chronic tension and anxiety." (R. at 369.) During the evaluation, Martin expressed great frustration about her emotional, family and vocational problems (R. at 386).

Dr. Wynne's diagnostic testing revealed a woman who was "significantly depressed". (R. at 386.) Dr. Wynne described Martin as a woman of above average intelligence who had problems with logical thinking, mood control, and interpersonal relationships. (R. at 388.) These problems seemed to be tied to her chronic emotional problems and her tendency to be preoccupied with her physical condition. (R. at 388.) He concluded that her coping skills seem to be related more to her mental health than to symptoms caused by physical disorders. (R. at 388.) Dr. Wynne ultimately recommended intensive psychotherapy and possibly medication for Martin. (R. at 389.) Finally, he urged that Martin not seek employment until her mental condition improved. (R. at 389.)

Hearing Record

At the hearing held on March 3, 1997, before Administrative Law Judge C.J. Sturek ("the ALJ"), Martin testified as to the composition of her household, her education, her prior occupation, and her daily activities. She also testified as to the physical and mental limitations created by her ailments and medications. As of the date of the hearing, Martin lived with her nineteen year-old son. (R. at 51.) She had taken several years of college courses and was 6 months from earning a BA when she stopped taking classes. (R. at 53-54, 70-71.) She worked as a full-time secretary in a church until January 1993. (R. at 54-55.) At Martin's most recent job, she worked as a part-time secretary for the D.C. Apartment Improvement Agency from February 1993 until April 1993. (R. at 56-59.)

Martin testified that she spends most of the day painting, watching television, and sleeping. (R. at 66, 69.) She needs to rest when she walks or stays on her feet more than 20 minutes at a time. (R. at 53.) She shares housework with her son. At her job as a secretary she would carry 20 pound files occasionally but never more than 50 pounds. (R. at 58.) She complained that even picking up her great grandson twice makes her tired and causes pain due to her hiatal hernia. (R. at 76.) She is able to groom herself properly, as all the doctors who examined her noticed. In the mornings she helps her son prepare for school and then takes a number of prescription medications. (R. at 74.) She takes her medication in the morning and then naps for three hours from around 8:00 to 11:00 AM. (R. at 77.) She goes to bed around 12:00 AM each night. (R. at 77-78.) From 11 a.m. to midnight, she is inactive. (R. at 78.)

Vocational expert Jan Howard testified at the ALJ's recommendation. (R. at 78.) Ms. Wagnor used Martin's testimony to determine whether, considering her age, education, prior work experience, and information which the expert had about the national job market, occupations exist which Martin could perform. The vocational expert opined that Martin's occupation would be classified as light level file clerk, but that due to her sleep pattern there was no work that she could perform. (R. at 81-82.)

Discussion

Scope of Review

The Social Security Act allows a person to file a civil action to obtain review of a decision by the Commissioner of Social Security. 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g) (1994), 42 U.S.C. § 1383 (c)(3) (1994). The final decision of the Commissioner is conclusive if supported by substantial evidence and untainted by an error of law. Davis v. Shalala., 862 F. Supp. 1, 4 (D.D.C. 1994).

It is the duty of the ALJ to make findings of fact and to resolve conflicts in the evidence. See Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). In reviewing an administrative decision, a court may not determine the weight of the evidence, nor substitute its judgment for that of the Secretary if her decision is based on substantial evidence. See id. Instead, the reviewing court must carefully scrutinize the entire record to determine whether the Secretary, acting through the ALJ, has analyzed all the evidence and has sufficiently explained the weight he has given to obviously probative material. See Davis, 862 F. Supp. at 2. Because the broad purposes of ...


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