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Swafford v. Social Security Administration

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

April 2, 2015



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 supplemental security income benefits, 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. 12), to which defendant has responded (Docket Entry No. 19). Plaintiff has further filed a reply brief in support of her motion (Docket Entry No. 22). Upon consideration of these papers and the transcript of the administrative record (Docket Entry No. 10), [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 benefits application on December 4, 2008, alleging disability due to bipolar disorder since January 1, 2007. (Tr. 214, 249) Plaintiff subsequently amended her alleged date of disability onset to December 4, 2008. (Tr. 36) Plaintiff's claim to benefits was denied at the initial and reconsideration stages of review before the state agency, whereupon plaintiff filed a request for de novo hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). That hearing was held on August 31, 2010. (Tr. 33-63) Plaintiff appeared with counsel at the hearing and testified, as did an impartial vocational expert. At the conclusion of the hearing the ALJ took the matter under advisement, until October 8, 2010, when he issued a written decision denying plaintiff's disability claim. (Tr. 19-27) That decision contains the following enumerated findings:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq. ).

2. The claimant has major depressive disorder and history of cocaine dependence, which are considered a "severe" combination of impairments, but not severe enough, either singly or in combination, to meet or medically equal the requirements set forth in the Listing of Impairments. Appendix 1 to Subpart P, Regulations No. 4.

3. After consideration of the entire record, the Administrative Law Judge finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels. Additionally, she can understand, remember and carry out two-to-three step directions; can maintain concentration and persistence for two-to-three step tasks with routine supervision; can have occasional interaction with the public; can relate to co-workers; and can adapt to infrequent workplace changes.

4. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).

5. The claimant is 38 years old, described as a younger individual (20 CFR 416.963).

6. The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).

7. Transferability of job skills is not an issue in this case because the claimant's past relevant work is unskilled (20 CFR 416.968).

8. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 416.969 and 416.969(a)).

9. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since December 4, 2008, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.920(g)).

(Tr. 21-22, 26-27)

On April 27, 2012, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-5), 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 record review is taken from defendant's brief, Docket Entry No. 19 at 2-8:

The record contains some treatment notes which relate to Plaintiff's treatment and condition prior to her alleged onset date, December 4, 2008 (Tr. 259-403, 438-41). Since Plaintiff's alleged date of disability onset, she has received treatment from several healthcare providers, including a mental healthcare provider and a primary care provider. In addition, at the request of the State Disability Determination Service (DDS), her medical records have been reviewed by DDS physicians.

Since her alleged onset date through at least August 2010, Plaintiff received treatment and other assistance from Mental Health Cooperative (MHC) where her case was managed by Maisha Faulkner (Tr. 403 451-534). Throughout her treatment at MHC Plaintiff's conditions were identified as "Major Depressive Disorder, Recurrent, Unspecified Primary" and "Cocaine Dependence- Non-Primary" (Tr. 425, 428, 432, 435, 454-5, 458, 463-4, 468, 471, 482, 483, 489-90, 493, 499, 504, 510, 514, 521-2, 528). Her treatment at MHC involved home visits; however, on several occasions, Plaintiff was not at home when Ms. Faulkner arrived (Tr. 467, 472, 475-8, 486, 498, 503, 507, 509, 513, 523). Plaintiff also failed to attend several scheduled appointments with mental healthcare ...

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