Long v. Social Security Administration
ORDER AND REASONS ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS: ORDERED that the 15 motion for summary judgment filed by Long is DENIED, and the 18 motion for summary judgment filed by the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration is GRANTED. Signed by Judge Lance M Africk on 7/7/2017.(blg)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING *
COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL *
CIVIL ACTION NO. 16-5089
JUDGE LANCE M. AFRICK
JANIS VAN MEERVELD
ORDER & REASONS
Patrice Long and Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration, both filed motions 1 for summary judgment in the abovecaptioned matter. The Magistrate Judge recommended 2 that Long’s motion be denied
and the motion filed by the Acting Commissioner be granted.
Among her findings, the Magistrate Judge found that the ALJ’s determination
that Long’s depression is not severe is supported by substantial evidence. 3 Long
objects 4 to the Magistrate Judge’s conclusion with respect to this finding. Long
argues that the Magistrate Judge erred by discounting the July 2013 depression
screening conducted by her primary care physician, Dr. Lincoln Pranikoff, and
further erred by finding that there was substantial evidence to support a
determination that Long’s depression is not a severe impairment.
R. Doc. No. 15 (Long); R. Doc. No. 18 (Acting Commissioner).
R. Doc. No. 19.
3 Id. at 26-27.
4 R. Doc. No. 20-1, at 10-11.
Long devoted minimal discussion in her motion for summary judgment to the
depression screening conducted by Dr. Pranikoff, relying instead on the report of
examining licensed psychologist Dr. Christine Powanda, on referral by Disability
Determinations Services. 5 In fact, Long’s brief never mentions the specific screening
tool utilized by Dr. Pranikoff—the PHQ-9; Long simply referred to Dr. Pranikoff’s
“depression screening.” 6
“The PHQ–9 is a tool for assisting primary care clinicians in diagnosing
depression as well as selecting and monitoring treatment.” Luckett v. Astrue, No. 095211, 2011 WL 336250, at *3 (W.D. Ark. Jan. 31, 2011); see also Lucero v. Colvin, No.
15-434, 2016 WL 8230654, at *6 n.12 (D.N.M. Aug. 17, 2016) (“The PHQ-9 (Patient
Health Questionnaire 9) is a nine-item scale that is self-administered and is used to
screen patients for depression.”). “[B]ased directly on the nine diagnostic criteria for
major depressive disorder in the DSM-IV,” the PHQ-9 is considered “one of the most
validated tools in mental health” and offers a “powerful tool to assist clinicians with
diagnosing depressing and monitoring treatment response.”
Lucero, 2016 WL
8230654, at *6 n.12 (quoting “PHQ-9 Depression Scale,” AIMS Center, University of
Washington, https://aims.uw.edu/resource-library/phq-9-depression-scale); see also
Kurt Kroenke et al., “The PHQ-9: Validity of a Brief Depression Severity Measure,”
16(9) J. Gen. Internal Med. 606 (2001) (concluding that the PHQ-9 is a reliable
measure of depression severity).
See R. Doc. No. 15, at 4-5, 10-12.
See generally id.
Thus, Long is correct that the PHQ-9 is a medically acceptable tool, which
factually distinguishes this case from Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232 (5th Cir.
1994), which was cited by the Magistrate Judge. In Greenspan, the ALJ disregarded
the treating physician’s opinion that Greenspan was unable to perform any type of
work because the opinion was conclusory and based on history, not clinical testing;
and because the physician used “dubious medical techniques.” 38 F.3d at 237-38. By
contrast, the PHQ-9—although relying on subjective complaints and patient
history—is not a dubious medical technique.
However, a PHQ-9 score is just one step in diagnosing and treating depression.
As explained by a district court in New York, “the PHQ–9 test is a screening device
and not to be used solely to make a depressive disorder diagnosis. . . . [T]he
questionnaire ‘relies on patient self-report,’ so a definitive diagnosis must be verified
by a clinician, taking into account how well the patient understood the questions, as
well as other relevant information from the patient, his or her family, and other
sources.” Hernandez v. Astrue, 814 F. Supp. 2d 168, 175 n.8 (E.D.N.Y. 2011) (citing
the claimant’s medical records). As the Magistrate Judge noted here, there are no
medical records indicating that Long sought or obtained treatment for depression
with a mental health professional. Long’s single PHQ-9 score was not followed up
with a definitive diagnosis by a mental health practitioner, and the single PHQ-9
score did not result in treatment for depression by Dr. Pranikoff or anyone else. It
appears that Long’s next visit with Dr. Pranikoff was six months later in December
2013, at which time the records make no mention of depression other than to note
“311 Depressive disorder, not elsewhere classified” as the sixth of Ms. Long’s
diagnoses that day. 7 The “Reason for Visit” was “routine evaluation” and migraine
headache due to a steroid injection. Further, as the Magistrate Judge noted, the only
licensed psychologist to examine Long, Dr. Powanda, found that her “mental health
seems fair overall” and concluded that she exhibited overall adequate sustained
attention, normal pace, and good persistence and effort. 8 Long denied depression and
anxiety when she visited Dr. Rian Tanenbaum and Dr. Mark Juneau, Jr. after her
depression screening with Dr. Pranikoff. 9 Moreover, Long and her husband both
reported that she could follow instructions and pay attention for hours, and Long’s
own testimony at the hearing did not indicate that her depression interfered with her
ability to function. 10
The Court, after considering the complaint, the record, the applicable law, the
Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation, and Long’s objections, hereby
approves the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation and adopts it as its
R. Doc. No. 8-8, at 84.
R. Doc. No. 19, at 26
10 Id. at 26-27.
IT IS ORDERED that that the motion 11 for summary judgment filed by Long
is DENIED, and the motion12 for summary judgment filed by the Acting
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration is GRANTED.
New Orleans, Louisiana, June 7, 2017.
LANCE M. AFRICK
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
R. Doc. No. 15.
R. Doc. No. 18.
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