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Wooten-Word v. Berryhill

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

August 29, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.



         Pending before the court in this Social Security appeal is plaintiff Tina Wooten-Word's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record (Doc. No. 13), to which the Commissioner of Social Security has responded (Doc. No. 21). Wooten-Word has filed a reply. (Doc. No. 22.) Upon consideration of these filings and the administrative record (Doc. No. 11), [2] and for the reasons given below, Wooten-Word's motion for judgment is DENIED and the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.

         I. Statement of the Case

         Wooten-Word filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act on July 13, 2009, alleging disability onset as of August 1, 2003 (Tr. 15), due to “[h]epatitis C, crushed foot and hurt back, depression, anxiety, [and] seizures.” (Tr. 172.) Tennessee Disability Determination Services (DDS) denied Wooten-Word's claims upon initial review and again following her request for reconsideration. Wooten-Word subsequently requested de novo review of her case by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ heard the case on January 27, 2012, when Wooten-Word appeared with counsel and gave testimony. (Tr. 33-68.) A vocational expert also testified. At the conclusion of the hearing, the ALJ took the matter under advisement until March 16, 2012, when she issued a written decision finding Wooten-Word not disabled. (Tr. 15-24.) That decision contains the following enumerated findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 13, 2013.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 1, 2003, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: chronic hepatitis, bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder and anxiety (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 the severity of 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 to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) in that she can lift 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently, and can sit, stand and walk for six hours each in an eight-hour day. She can understand and remember simple and complex decisions, but cannot make executive level decisions. She has the ability to maintain attention and concentration for periods of two hours, can appropriately interact with co-workers and the general public, and can adapt to gradual change.
6. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a data entry clerk. 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 August 1, 2003, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(f) and 416.920(f)).

(Tr. 17, 19-20, 24.)

         On June 19, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Wooten-Word's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-3), rendering that decision final. This civil action seeking review was timely filed on August 21, 2013. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II.Review of the Record

         At her hearing before the ALJ, Wooten-Word testified that she was thirty-eight years old, was able to read and write, and had attended school through the ninth grade. (Tr. 36.) She subsequently obtained her GED. (Id.) She testified that she had a driver's license and was able to drive without limitation. (Tr. 36-37.) Her past work history includes semi-skilled jobs as a certified pharmacy technician in both retail and closed-door pharmacies and as data entry clerk. (Tr. 38, 59, 62.) When asked to tell the ALJ in her own words why she could not work, Wooten-Word stated:

I'm not able to work because I have to take so much time off work to go to my doctor's appointments and now I have mental health people that come to the house twice a month. I can't sit or stand for, for long, as long periods of time like I use[d] to be able to because of my depression and my mental health stuff. My memory, I have memory problems now, I get aggravated with people easier, I get real nervous in certain situations with a lot of things going on at one time. I . . . zone out like for periods of a time, different periods of a time and with my nausea and vomiting there's days that, that I mean I'm in the bed for the single fact that I'm so nauseous or that . . . I'm you know running back and forth getting sick and not vomiting and then having to lay back down because I[] just have [a] nauseous feeling all day.

(Tr. 47.)

         Wooten-Word's medical history includes treatment for physical ailments including chronic hepatitis C, which causes her nausea and for which Interferon therapy was unhelpful; residual pain from an injury to her left foot; and lower back pain. However, her arguments for reversal of the ALJ's decision are focused on her mental health conditions. The record reflects that Wooten-Word received mental health treatment from December 2009 through February 2010 at Volunteer Behavioral Health Care System in Gallatin, Tennessee. (Tr. 375-87.) Wooten-Word refused case management services through that organization, but received individual therapy and medication management. She was diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder, Most Recent Episode Depressed, Moderate with related insomnia; and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Predominantly Inattentive Type. (Tr. 385-86.) The last treatment notes from Volunteer Behavioral Health Care System reflect Wooten-Word's report that her depression medication was effective in controlling her symptoms, her mood stabilization medication was “calming, ” and she had no side effects, although she did report not sleeping well. (Tr. 382, 384.)

         On November 4, 2010, Wooten-Word presented for an intake evaluation at the Mental Health Cooperative (MHC) in Gallatin, Tennessee. (Tr. 617-19.) She reported having attempted suicide by prescription drug overdose in April 2006. (Tr. 617.) She also reported mood swings, depression, isolation, agitation, regular auditory hallucinations, reduction in appetite, and reduction in sleep, as well as occasional racing thoughts. (Id.) Based on these reported symptoms, Wooten-Word was rated as markedly impaired in all domains of mental functioning on a Tennessee Clinically Related Group (CRG) form[3] completed by Mental Health Liaison Assessment Clinician Jessica Nicholson on the day of her intake. (Tr. 545-47.) The record thereafter documents Wooten-Word's regular receipt of case management and medication management services from MHC (Tr. 545-619), which continued through the date of the hearing. (Tr. 44a, Doc. No. 20, PageID# 690.)

         On November 18, 2010, Wooten-Word received a psychological evaluation related to her participation in the Families First Program of assistance that is monitored by the Tennessee Department of Human Services.[4] (Tr. 438-45.) The evaluation and formal intelligence testing were administered by Senior Psychological Examiner Tim K. McConkey. (Tr. 443.) Mr. McConkey reported that Wooten-Word “obtained a Full Scale IQ of 64 placing her in the first percentile and the ‘extremely low' range of intellectual classification” (Tr. 441), and further found as follows:

Clinical indicators support functional limitations in working memory (storing and retrieving information in general) and processing speed with indirect impact on self-direction in many job settings. Ms. Wooten may not be able to take initiative in settings where ...

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