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Schrunk v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

January 8, 2015

KERRY E. SCHRUNK, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration; Defendant.


LAURIE SMITH CAMP, Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the denial, initially and on reconsideration, of Plaintiff's disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, 1381-1385. For the following reasons, the ALJ's decision will be affirmed.


Plaintiff Kerry E. Schrunk ("Plaintiff") applied for DIB and SSI under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, 1381-1385 (Tr. 253-254, 255-260). Her claims were denied initially (Tr. 103-104, 111-120), and on reconsideration (Tr. 107-108, 123-133). On December 27, 2012, following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge Kathleen Muramoto (the "ALJ"), found that Plaintiff was not under a "disability" as defined in the Act. (Tr. 7-28.) On January 2, 2014, Social Security Administration's Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-6.) Thus, Plaintiff has exhausted her administrative remedies, and the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner subject to judicial review. Plaintiff filed her Complaint with this Court on February 28, 2014.


Plaintiff alleged she became disabled on July 1, 2007, due to bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, social anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), seizures, and alcohol dependence. (Tr. 253, 317.) She subsequently amended the alleged onset date to June 2, 2008. (Tr. 32, 36, 369.)

Plaintiff graduated from college with a degree in business administration, and has work experience as a receptionist, waitress, telephone interviewer, general clerk, and carpet cleaning helper. (Tr. 19-20, 44, 318, 368.) Plaintiff was twenty-six years old on the amended alleged onset date and thirty-one years old when the ALJ rendered her decision. (Tr. 21, 253.)

Prior to her alleged onset date, Plaintiff was diagnosed with Bipolar Type I Disorder. (Tr. 693.) On June 2, 2008, Plaintiff's counselor, Peggy Hammes ("Hammes"), referred Plaintiff to Dr. Joan Daughton ("Dr. Daughton") to address stabilization of her condition. (Tr. 696.) Dr. Daughton confirmed Plaintiff's Bipolar Type I Disorder, added a diagnosis of Anxiety Disorder NOS, and assessed a Global Assessment Functioning ("GAF") score[1] of 50. (Tr. 695.) On June 23, 2008, Hammes, noted that Plaintiff's symptoms had worsened since her June 2, 2008, appointment, and Hammes assessed a GAF score of 47. (Tr. 688.) Plaintiff's GAF scores remained in the 45 to 50 range through the rest of 2008. (Tr. 682, 678, 673, 654, 645.) In January and February of 2009 her GAF scores were 42 and 45 respectively. (Tr. 644, 649.)

On June 11, 2008, Barbara Schuett ("Schuett") performed a consultative exam for Plaintiff. (Tr. 564-575.) The report reflected a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, delusional disorder, alcohol abuse, cannabis abuse in early full remission, bulimia nervosa, and a GAF score of 40-45. (Tr. 574.)

On September 3, 2009, Frederick Petrides, Ph.D. ("Dr. Petrides"), performed another consultative exam. (Tr. 741-746.) Dr. Petrides's report reflected a diagnosis of mild depressive reaction, no signs of a definitive personality disorder, suspected malingering, and assessed a GAF score of 65. (Tr. 745.)

On June 15, 2010, Plaintiff was treated at Douglas County Community Mental Health Center ("Douglas County") after suffering a mental breakdown. (Tr. 765; see also Tr. 772-78.) Loreen Riedler, M.D. ("Dr. Riedler"), chronicled that Plaintiff had been "showing poor compliance with medications and had been drinking more over the past couple of weeks and exacerbated into acute alcohol intoxication when she lost her job after not getting there Saturday morning." (Tr. 765.) Plaintiff received counseling and her medications were streamlined. (Tr. 766-67.) She was placed in a treatment program and was instructed to attend Alcoholics Anonymous ("AA") meetings. (Tr. 767.) By discharge on June 15, 2010, she was "much improved in mood and affect." (Tr. 767.) Plaintiff's admission GAF score was 24, and her discharge GAF score was 52. (TR. 765.)

Plaintiff again received inpatient treatment at Douglas County from July 6, 2010, through July 21, 2010. (Tr. 780-81; see also Tr. 782-83.) Tenycia Shepherd, M.D., documented that Plaintiff had been admitted pursuant to a petition due to her disorganized behavior, noncompliance with medications, and drug and alcohol use. (Tr. 780.) She was referred to NOVA Therapeutic Community for continued inpatient treatment. (Tr. 780.) Plaintiff was provided medications and instructed to participate in medical, substance use, or mental health treatment as needed. (Tr. 781.) Her prognosis was considered "guarded" due to her "history of noncompliance as well as poor insight into her mental illness and continued substance use." (Tr. 781.) Plaintiff was discharged with diagnoses of bipolar disorder, alcohol dependence, and marijuana abuse. (Tr. 780.) Plaintiff's GAF score was 20 upon admittance and 40 upon discharge. (Tr. 780.)

Plaintiff returned to Douglas County for outpatient treatment on July 30, 2010. (Tr. 917-18). Plaintiff was not happy with NOVA, her treatment program, and she appeared anxious and depressed. (Tr. 917). The effectiveness of her medications was rated as "fair" to "good." (Tr. 917.) Her GAF score was 44. (Tr. 918.)

On September 16, 2010, Plaintiff's Douglas County provider recorded that Plaintiff's medications had a "great!" impact upon her symptoms. (Tr. 915.) Her GAF score was 54. (Tr. 916.) Her thought processes were linear; her thought content was logical; her mood was euthymic or neutral; her insight was "ok"; and her judgment was good. (Tr. 915.) Plaintiff was discharged from NOVA on September 17, 2010. (Tr. 840.) Her discharge diagnoses were alcohol dependence and Bipolar I Disorder, and her GAF score was 55. (Tr. 840.)

On October 21, 2010, the Clinical Director of the Douglas County Community Mental Health Center, Sidney Kauzlarich, M.D. ("Dr. Kauzlarich"), issued an opinion explaining how a patient's GAF score is evaluated differently from an evaluation completed in connection with federal and state disability cases. (Tr. 1209.) Dr. Kauzlarich clarified that a clinical GAF score is related to "how the person is functioning in the context of not working: when he or she does not have to contend with the demands of a full-time job." (Tr. 1209.) Dr. Kauzlarich opined that GAF scores ranging between 50 and 60 might still be incompatible with full-time employment because the question with respect to an individual's ability to work is whether the individual in question can "function independently and appropriately and effectively and on a sustained basis." (Tr. 1209). Dr. Kauzlarich postulated that an individual currently functioning at a given level might suffer an exacerbation if subjected to the stress of work. (Tr. 1209.)

On November 4, 2010, a Douglas County provider observed that Plaintiff was "a lot happier" and "sober." (Tr. 913.) Medications had "good" effects on her symptoms, and she displayed "ok" insight and good judgment. (Tr. 913.) Her GAF was ...

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