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King v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

December 11, 2014



JOHN S. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.

This is a civil action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c), to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Social Security Administration ("SSA" or "the Administration") denying plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, as provided under the Social Security Act. The case is currently pending on plaintiff's motion for judgment on the administrative record (Docket Entry No. 7), to which defendant has responded (Docket Entry No. 10). Plaintiff has further filed a reply brief (Docket Entry No. 13), to which defendant has filed a sur-reply (Docket Entry No. 16). Upon consideration of these papers and the transcript of the administrative record (Docket Entry No. 5), [1] and for the reasons given below, the undersigned recommends that plaintiff's motion for judgment be DENIED and that the decision of the SSA be AFFIRMED.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff filed her claims to benefits on July 8, 2008, alleging that she became disabled on January 1, 2008, as a result of her bipolar disorder. (Tr. 161, 171-72) Her claims were denied at the initial and reconsideration stages of state agency review, whereupon plaintiff filed a request for de novo hearing and decision by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). An administrative hearing was held on June 15, 2010, at which plaintiff appeared with counsel. (Tr. 24-51) Plaintiff testified, as did an impartial vocational expert. At the conclusion of the hearing, the ALJ closed the record and took the matter under advisement, until September 2, 2010, when he issued a written decision in which plaintiff was found to be not disabled. (Tr. 11-19) That decision contains the following enumerated findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2012.

2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2008, the alleged onset date (AOD) (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq. ).

3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).

4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).

5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels. From a mental standpoint, the claimant is able to understand, remember, and carry out routine step instructions. She is able to respond appropriately to supervisors and coworkers in jobs that do not require independent decision making. The claimant has the mental capacity to perform work where interpersonal contact is only incidental to work performance.

6. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a hand packer. This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).

7. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 1, 2008, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(f) and 416.920(f)).

(Tr. 13-15, 18-19)

On July 17, 2010, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-3), thereby rendering that decision the final decision of the Administration. This civil action was thereafter timely filed, and the court has jurisdiction. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c). If the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, based on the record as a whole, then those findings are conclusive. Id.

II. Review of the Record

The following summary of the record is taken from defendant's brief, Docket Entry No. 10 at 3-11.

1. Non-Medical and Vocational Evidence

As of January 1, 2008, Plaintiff's alleged onset date, she was 30 years old, which is considered a younger individual (Tr. 161). See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(c), 416.963(c). She stopped working on June 28, 2008, "[b]ecause of other reasons (not my condition) can't keep a job for a long periods" [sic] (Tr. 173). Plaintiff married on December 17, 2008 and has completed 2years of college courses (Tr. 27-28, 32-33, 178). She attended college at the time she applied for benefits through the beginning of 2010 (Tr. 178). Plaintiff has a driver's license and is able to drive (Tr. 32-33). She has never been fired from a job and has worked as a fountain server, animal control officer, and a hand packer (Tr. 40, 181-182).

Plaintiff completed a Function Report - Adult on July 27, 2008, indicating she engages in a variety of daily activities ranging from taking care of pets, housework, social activities, errands, providing transportation to and from work for a friend, photography, personal care, cooking, baking, driving shopping, walking, taking care of personal finances, watching t.v., and studying (Tr. 212-216). She indicated her impairment affects her ability to concentrate, understand, and get along with others (Tr. 217). She can walk for a half mile before needing to take a 20 minute rest. Id . Plaintiff indicated she can read 2 to 3 paragraphs at a time, she can follow written instructions but it takes her time, and she can follow spoken instructions but does better with written ones. Id . Plaintiff states she does not handle stress well (Tr. 218).

Plaintiff submitted a Disability Report - Appeal on December 12, 2008, alleging Plaintiff "reports suffering from severe insomnia, severe depression, feelings of isolation, crying spells, confusion, hallucinations and delusions" since Fall 2008 (Tr. 227-232). Plaintiff "reports that she has trouble functioning in social situations, and suffers from severe bouts of anxiety when placed in such situations" also since Fall 2008 (Tr. 228). She did not report any new impairments. Id . Plaintiff "indicates that she is affected to the extent that activities requiring social interaction are extremely difficult" but there were no changes in her daily activities since she filed the report in September 2008 (Tr. 231).

2. Medical Evidence

a. Physical Health

The record includes an unsigned Memorandum dated May 6, 2010, that indicates that in 2001 Plaintiff was assessed with chronic plantar fasciitis/heel spur syndrome confirmed by radiographs (x-rays), which was treated by casting orthotics, placing Plaintiff in bilateral low Dye strappings, and placing heel lifts in her shoes (Tr. 454). However, the record does not include copies of the radiographs, nor is there any indication of who ...

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