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Beasley v. Colvin

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

October 18, 2013

TERESA ANN BEASLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security. Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

LANNY KING, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon the Plaintiff's complaint seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned Magistrate Judge to determine this case, with any appeal lying before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Plaintiff is represented by Donna Thornton-Green. The fact and law summaries of the Plaintiff and the Defendant are at Docket Entry Nos. 12 and 13, respectively.

Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Marci P. Eaton rendered the final decision of the Commissioner denying Plaintiff's disability claim, which is presently before the Court upon judicial review. Administrative Record (AR), pp. 19-29.

For the reasons below, the final decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED, and the Plaintiff's complaint is DISMISSED.

Procedural History

In December, 2010, Jonathan R. Van Meter, M.D., examined Plaintiff at the request of the Commissioner. Dr. Van Meter found significant physical limitations, including a 20-minute restriction on sitting and standing, a 15-minute limitation on walking, no lifting/carrying 5 pounds or more, and hand numbness from possible carpal tunnel syndrome (AR, p. 251). These findings appear to have been based upon uncritical acceptance by Dr. Van Meter of what Plaintiff told him during the medical interview portion of the examination. Plaintiff told Dr. Van Meter that she can sit, stand, and walk "comfortably" for these time limits and can lift and carry "light groceries only" (AR, p. 248).

Vocational expert (VE) William Harpool testified that an individual with the limitations identified by Dr. Van Meter would be unemployable (AR, p. 445).

In January 2011, based on Dr. Van Meter's findings and the record as a whole, state agency program physician Allen Dawson completed the Physical Residual Functional Capacity Assessment in a manner compatible with the requirements of light work as defined at 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) (AR, pp. 37-39).

In May 2011, program physician David Swan reaffirmed Dr. Dawson's assessment (AR, pp. 291 and 297).

In March 2012, Tom Wagner, Ph.D., testified as a psychological expert. He noted Plaintiff's mental health treatment at Four Rivers Behavioral Health, where her global assessment of functioning (GAF) scores were "routinely 58... in the moderate realm"(AR, p. 435). He identified Plaintiff's mental limitations "from what I have here in this record" (AR, p. 437) and memorialized those limitations by way of completion of the standard Ability to Do Work-Related Activities (Mental) form (AR, pp. 380-381). Upon cross-examination, he admitted that Plaintiff's restrictions would be "much higher" if Plaintiff's testimony were accepted as fully credible (AR, p. 438).

The VE testified that an individual with certain limitations, which were consistent with those given by Drs. Dawson, Swan, and Wagner, would be able to perform Plaintiff's past relevant work as an inspector-packer as well as a significant number of other light jobs in the national economy (AR, pp. 443-444).

The ALJ denied Plaintiff's disability claim based upon acceptance of the foregoing vocational testimony, giving "little" weight to Dr. Van Meter's findings and "great" weight to those of Drs. Dawson, Swan, and Wagner (AR, pp. 26 and 27).

Discussion

Plaintiff disability claim is premised on a combination of back pain, obesity, and depression. She presents three contentions: 1) The ALJ erred in accepting the findings of a non-examining sources, Drs. Dawson and Swan, which permitted some light work, in preference to those of the one-time examining source, Dr. Van Meter, which would have eliminated all work. 2) In weighing the medical evidence, the ALJ "placed herself in the position of a medical doctor" (DN 12, p. ...


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