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Roseannel. S. v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

September 23, 2019

ROSEANNEL. S., [1]Plaintiff,


          Jolie A. Russo United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Roseanne S. brings this action for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Title XVI Social Security Income. All parties have consented to allow a Magistrate Judge enter final orders and judgment in this case in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed and this case is dismissed.


         Born in 1980, plaintiff alleges disability for the closed period of April 22, 2015, through March 23, 2017, due to fibromyalgia, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), anxiety, depression, and headaches, conditions which were temporarily exacerbated by a June 28, 2012, motor vehicle accident.[2] Tr. 37-38, 164, 189. On November 1, 2017, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), wherein plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified, as did a vocational expert ("VE"). Tr. 35-66. On March 5, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 13-24. After the Appeals Council denied her request for review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 1-6.


         At step one of the five step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the amended alleged onset date. Tr. 15. At step two, the ALJ determined plaintiffs fibromyalgia was medically determinable and severe. Id. At step three, the ALJ found plaintiffs impairments, either singly or in combination, did not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment. Tr. 16.

         Because plaintiff did not establish presumptive disability at step three, the ALJ continued to evaluate how plaintiff s impairments affected her ability to work. The ALJ resolved that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b) except she can: tolerate "frequent but not constant contact with the public and with coworkers" and occasional contact with supervisors; and frequently stoop and climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. Tr. 18.

         At step four, the ALJ determined plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. Tr. 22. At step five, the ALJ concluded, based on the VE's testimony, that plaintiff could perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy despite her impairments, such as inserting machine operator, collator operator, and small parts assembler. Tr. 22-23.


         This case hinges on the ALJ's treatment of state agency consulting source Joshua Boyd, Ph.D. Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred: (1) by rejecting Dr. Boyd's preliminary findings about the severity of her mental impairments at steps two and three; and (2) failing to account for all of Dr. Boyd's concrete functional limitations in the RFC. PL's Opening Br. 5-8 (doc. 10).

         In August 2015, Dr. Boyd completed the initial level of social security disability review. Tr. 67-80. In the "Findings of Fact and Analysis of Evidence" section, Dr. Boyd stated "M[a]or] D[epressive] Disorder], PTSD ... are severe." Tr. 70-73. Yet, in the immediately subsequent "Medically Determinable Impairments and Severity" section, Dr. Boyd remarked that plaintiffs medically determinable mental conditions were both "Secondary" and "Non Severe." Tr. 73. Nevertheless, Dr. Boyd determined plaintiff had "moderate" impairments in maintaining social functioning and concentration, persistence, or pace. Tr. 74. The doctor therefore prepared a mental RFC, in which he translated plaintiffs impairments into concrete functional restrictions. Tr. 77-78. In particular, Dr. Boyd opined that plaintiff was capable of "simple repetitive tasks," frequent but not constant contact with coworkers and the public, "occasional interaction with the supervisor," and "a normal 40 hour workweek." Id.

         Upon reconsideration in December 2015, state agency consulting source Scott Kaper, Ph.D., reviewed additional evidence and concluded plaintiffs mental impairments were non-severe in both in the "Findings of Fact and Analysis of Evidence" and "Medically Determinable Impairments and Severity" sections. Tr. 88. As a result, Dr. Kaper opined plaintiffs mental impairments caused no more than mild functional limitations; he nonetheless found that "[e]vidence supports the initial decision." Tr. 88-89.

         In evaluating plaintiffs claim, the ALJ purported to give "great weight" to Dr. Boyd and Dr. Kaper, although he construed both doctors as "not find[ing] any severe mental impairments." Tr. 20-21. Nevertheless, in "an abundance of caution," the ALJ included a non-exertional RFC limitation for "frequent but not constant contact with the public and with coworkers" and "occasional contact with supervisor[S]." Tr. 18.

         The reports of Drs. Boyd and Kaper constitute the only opinion evidence of record. In terms of treatment evidence, plaintiff did not seek counseling for the majority of the closed period at issue. Tr. 323-30, 337-51, 354-59, 363-65, 385-88, 394-98. Namely, the record reflects plaintiff attended five sessions with Christopher Smith, Ph.D., between May and July 2015. Tr. 323-30. There are no further records until December 2015, when plaintiff resumed care with Dr. Smith for approximately one month before terminating services "[d]ue to reduction of symptoms." Tr. 337-41, 350-51, 354-49, 363-65; see also Tr. 46-51, 54-58 (plaintiffs November 2017 hearing testimony indicating fibromyalgia, coupled with "an abusive relationship," were the primary ...

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