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Jennifer Wyman v. Michael J. Astrue

February 7, 2012

JENNIFER WYMAN
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul Barbadoro United States District Judge

Opinion No. 2012 DNH 019

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Jennifer Wyman seeks judicial review of a ruling by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her application for Supplemental Security Income benefits ("SSI"). Wyman claims that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") who denied her claim lacked substantial evidence to support his finding that alcohol dependence was a contributing factor material to her disability. For the reasons set forth below, I remand the case for further proceedings before the Commissioner.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

Wyman was born on June 25, 1973, and filed for SSI at age thirty-six. She completed high school and one year of college. She has past work experience as a grill cook and waitress.

A. Procedural History

Wyman filed for SSI on December 15, 2009, alleging disability due to depression and anxiety. Tr. 117. She alleged a disability onset date of December 14, 2009. Id. The Social Security Administration denied Wyman's claim on February 23, 2010, and again on reconsideration two days later. She requested a hearing, at which she and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. On May 27, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Wyman was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.

B. Treatment History

On July 14, 2010, Susan Leonard, a licensed social worker, examined Wyman and noted that she had a history of sexual abuse and alcoholism. Wyman told Leonard that she drank beer every day and used cocaine intermittently. Leonard noted that Wyman seemed incapable of working, had some social skills, reported feeling comfortable only when under the influence, had little self-awareness, and historically was unable to maintain a medication regimen. Wyman performed well on her mental status examinations, except that she used her fingers to count and made some spelling errors. Leonard diagnosed Wyman with post-traumatic stress disorder, cocaine dependence without physiological dependence, alcohol dependence with physiological dependence, and personality disorder not otherwise specified with borderline and antisocial traits. She opined that Wyman had a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score of 45.*fn2

Quentin Turnbull, M.D., concurred with Leonard's assessment.

On August 20, 2010, Dr. Janet Carella, M.D., examined Wyman. Wyman reported that she drank six beers at a time, several times a week, but denied using other substances. She denied suicidal and homicidal ideation. She claimed that her mood was unpredictable and that she had trouble sleeping. During a later examination on October 5, 2010, Wyman told Dr. Carella that she was drinking approximately six beers a day, down from eighteen to twenty-one beers.

On October 19, 2010, Michele Authier, a social worker, and Dr. Paul Lidstrom, M.D., conducted an intake assessment of Wyman. Wyman reported that she routinely drank ten to twelve beers a day, down from twenty-four. Dr. Lidstrom diagnosed Wyman with post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol dependence with physiological dependence, and personality disorder not otherwise specified with borderline antisocial traits.

On December 14, 2010, Nicole Fischler, a nurse practitioner, diagnosed Wyman with depressive disorder, generalized anxiety, substance abuse disorder, post-traumatic stress, and abuse/neglect. A mental status examination revealed that Wyman had normal orientation, attention, concentration, memory, language, and thought; nervous mood and affect; and fair judgment and insight. Fischler noted that Wyman was working with a counselor at White Mountain Mental Health to deal with her alcoholism. Tr. 369. On December 29, 2010, Fischler opined that Wyman's post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, history of domestic violence, and alcoholism caused her to be permanently disabled.

On January 20, 2011, Dr. Jeffrey Kay, a clinical psychologist, conducted a psychiatric evaluation. He found that Wyman was depressed and anxious, but neat, clean, friendly, and cooperative. She displayed a flat affect, denied hallucinating when sober, did not demonstrate any other abnormalities of thought content, and had average attention and short-term memory. Based on the mental status examination, Dr. Kay determined that Wyman had a moderate degree of functional loss in her ability to perform daily activities, to engage in social interactions, and to react to work-related stress. He concluded that she had a slight degree of functional loss in her ability to perform work related tasks. He also opined that Wyman had a good probability of returning to work in one to two years. Dr. Kay ...


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