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Vied v. Colvin

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

November 1, 2013

YVONNE VIED, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.


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 No. (DN) 10 and DN 11, respectively.

Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Michael Comisky 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. 20-30.

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

Procedural History

The ALJ found that Plaintiff has no exertional limitation (AR, p. 24), and she does not challenge this aspect of the ALJ's decision (DN 10, p. 2). Plaintiff claims that the ALJ improperly evaluated her mental impairments.

Psychiatrist Vicki Roberts treated Plaintiff from August through November, 2009. Dr. Roberts suspected that Plaintiff dropped out of therapy due to "financial concerns"; therapy was "very, very incomplete" (AR, p. 240). Dr. Roberts did not offer an opinion of what Plaintiff can still do despite her impairments. However, on one occasion, she did assign a global assessment of functioning (GAF) of 51 (AR, p. 252).

Plaintiff received treatment at Four Rivers Behavioral Health from November through December, 2011. Treating sources at Four Rivers assigned a GAF of 53 on two occasions (AR, pp. 348 and 356).

In November 2010, Jeanne Bennett, Psy.D., examined Plaintiff at the request of the Commissioner. Dr. Bennett assigned a current GAF of 50 and completed a mental Functional Capacities summary (AR, pp. 258-259).

In January 2011, in light of Dr. Bennett's findings and the record as a whole, state agency program psychologist Douglas Robbins, Ph.D., completed the Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment (AR, pp. 72-74).

In March 2011, another program psychologist, Edward Stodola, Ph.D., adopted Dr. Robbins' findings, stating that there was no additional evidence to materially alter the prior findings (AR, p. 87).

At the administrative hearing, the ALJ explained that the first vocational hypothetical would be "based on my interpretation of [Dr. Bennett's Functional Capacities summary]" (AR, pp. 55 and 259). The ALJ asked vocational expert (VE) Lowell Latto, Ph.D., to assume that the individual is limited to "simple instructions, simple repetitive tasks, low stress. I define that as non-paced work with only occasional contact with coworkers, supervisors, and no public contact" (AR, p. 55). The VE testified that the individual could perform Plaintiff's past relevant work as a housekeeper as well as other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy (AR, pp. 55-56).

The ALJ denied Plaintiff's disability claim based upon acceptance of the foregoing vocational testimony. In support of her mental residual functional capacity (RFC) finding, the ALJ stated that she was "fully persuaded by the opinions of Dr. Robbins and Dr. Stodola, which are adopted herein. Their opinions are consistent with and supported by the evidence as a whole and are not contradicted by any treating source opinion [i.e., Dr. Roberts' opinion] or other' credible evidence" (AR, p. 29). In referring to "other credible evidence, " the ALJ was implicitly referencing Dr. Bennett's findings, which she found to be credible only to the extent contemplated by the controlling vocational hypothetical.

At the hearing, counsel apparently was going to present a hypothetical to the VE based upon the GAF ratings in the record and mentioned above in the 50 to 53 range. However, before asking the question, counsel and the ALJ digressed into a colloquy regarding the relevance of GAF scores for Social Security disability purposes. The ALJ took the position that GAF scores are not particularly useful as they typically reflect only a claimant's current GAF, whereas disabling limitations must endure for at least 12 continuous months, GAF scores are inherently subjective, with different ...

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