Brownawell v. Commissioner of Social Security, 120908 FED3, 07-4405

Docket Nº:07-4405
Case Date:December 09, 2008
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit




No. 07-4405

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

December 9, 2008

Submitted Pursuant to Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) December 2, 2008

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 05-cv-02076) District Judge: Honorable Yvette Kane

Robert E. Rains, Esq., Megan Riesmeyer, Esq., Anne MacDonald-Fox, Esq., Counsel for Appellant

Heather Benderson, Esq., Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration

Dennis C. Pfannenschmidt, Esq., Office of United States Attorney, Counsel for Appellee

Before: AMBRO, WEIS, and VAN ANTWERPEN, Circuit Judges.


VAN ANTWERPEN, Circuit Judge.

Kathy Brownawell appeals the District Court's September 28, 2007 order affirming the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of her claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Because the decision to deny benefits was improperly based on a number of erroneous facts and discredits the opinions of two examining doctors based on the opinion of a non-examining psychologist, and because substantial evidence on a fully developed record indicates that Brownawell is disabled, this Court reverses the decision of the District Court and remands with the direction to enter an order directing the payment of benefits.


Brownawell filed an application for SSI on September 25, 2000, stating that she was unable to work due to severe migraine headaches and anxiety. Her claim was denied at the initial level of administrative review and, at Brownawell's request, a hearing was held by Administrative Law Judge Edward Morriss ("ALJ"), at which Brownawell was represented by counsel. At the hearing, Brownawell testified that she suffers from migraine headaches that, combined with depression and anxiety, leave her debilitated for an average of ten to fifteen days per month. The ALJ also heard testimony from a vocational expert and considered treatment notes from Dr. Phillip Grem, Brownawell's longtime treating physician, and evaluations from Dr. Picciotto, an examining state agency psychiatrist, and Dr. Jonathan Rightmyer, a non-examining state agency psychologist. The ALJ issued a decision denying the claim on November 28, 2001. After the Social Security Administration's ("SSA") Appeals Council denied Brownawell's request for review, she filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) in the Middle District of Pennsylvania.1

Brownawell's case was referred to Magistrate Judge Thomas Blewitt, who concluded that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence and recommended remand to the ALJ for further proceedings. Specifically, Magistrate Judge Blewitt found that "the ALJ erred in finding that [Brownawell's] treatment history was limited, as this finding is contradicted by frequent visits to her family doctor and multiple visits to the emergency room." Brownawell v. Barnhart, Civ. No. 3:CV-02-1168, slip op. at 12 (M.D. Pa. August 22, 2003). On October 21, 2003, the District Court issued an order adopting Magistrate Judge Blewitt's report and recommendation and remanding Brownawell's case to the SSA "for reconsideration of the evidence, giving proper weight to the testimony of Kathy Brownawell, the treating physician, [Dr. Grem,] the consultative psychiatrist, [Dr. Picciotto,] the non-examining psychologist, [Dr. Rightmyer,] and the vocational expert." Brownawell v. Barnhart, Civ. No. 3:CV-02-1168 (M.D. Pa. August 22, 2003) (order remanding case to SSA).

On July 20, 2004, after a second hearing, ALJ Morriss again found that Brownawell was not entitled to SSI; that decision is the subject of the current appeal. After the Appeals Council denied review, Brownawell filed a second § 405(g) complaint in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The District Court referred the case to Magistrate Judge Malachy Mannion, who recommended denial of Brownawell's appeal. On September 28, 2007, the District Court issued an order adopting Magistrate Judge Mannion's report and recommendation...

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