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Robertson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division

April 5, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Danny C. Reeves, United States District Judge

         This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Lynne Anne Robertson and Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”). [Record Nos. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">10, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">12] Robertson contends that the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) assigned to her case erred by denying disability income benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). She requests that the matter be remanded for further administrative proceedings. [Record No. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">10-1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1, p. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">10] Conversely, the Commissioner contends that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed.

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Commissioner's motion and deny the relief sought by the claimant.

         I. Procedural History

         On October 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">16, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13, Robertson filed concurrent applications for a period of disability and DIB under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) and SSI under Title XVI of the Act, alleging that her disability commenced on September 30, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13. [Administrative Transcript, “Tr., ” 236, 238] The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied the applications initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">121');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">134, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">141');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1] Thereafter, Robertson requested and received an administrative hearing before an ALJ, who denied benefits in a written decision on October 8, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">14. [Tr. 45, 31');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1-40] Robertson sought review by the Appeals Council. However, that request was denied on November 7, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">14, and again on October 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">17, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">16. [Tr. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1, 21');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1]. Accordingly, the claimant has exhausted her administrative remedies and the matter is ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1383(c)(3).

         II. Background

         Robertson was forty-five years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. [Tr. 51');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1] She was divorced and had a fifteen year old daughter living at home. [Tr. 52] Robertson completed high school and two years of college [Tr. 52, 389] and has worked for a short time as a medical assistant in a podiatry clinic and as a cashier in cosmetics and convenience stores. [Tr. 53-57]

         Robertson testified that she began having “nerve” problems about eight or ten years previously, following physical and mental abuse by her ex-husband. [Tr. 58] The claimant responded when asked about the brief nature of her prior employment that she “just mentally could not do it.” [Tr. 59] She added that she cried at work, got very anxious and that “it was just more than [she] could handle.” Id. Robertson testified, however, that the only day she had missed work was the day she “tried to overdose.” Id. She left the jobs at the podiatry clinic and convenience store on her own, but was fired from the job at the cosmetics store. [Tr. 61');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1-62]

         Robertson advised that she has not attempted suicide again, but that she experiences suicidal thoughts several times per week. [Tr. 60] She stated that everything was stressful to her, including bathing, because her hair was falling out. Id. As a result, there were some days that the claimant did not bathe. [Tr. 61');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1] Robertson added that she was nervous around too many people and that she mostly stayed in her bedroom. [Tr. 62] According to the claimant, these problems prevented her from engaging in social activities with her daughter, although she did take her to school in the mornings. [Tr. 63, 70] Robertson testified that she was no longer able to read for pleasure or watch television due to concentration problems. [Tr. 64] However, Robertson stated that she had a best friend who visited “a couple of times a week” and communicated with her by text message. [Tr. 65]

         Robertson also testified that she had difficulty sleeping and she had been cutting herself for about five or six years because she “needed to feel something.” [Tr. 66-67] She believed this was triggered by memories from her childhood and she testified that she was depressed every day. [Tr. 68] Robertson also claimed to have been bulimic since the age of 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">17 and reported throwing up after every meal. [Tr. 68] She reported some trouble using her hands due to shakiness, and some stomach pain related to the alleged bulimia. [Tr. 68-69] The claimant also reported suffering from asthma and stated that she used an albuterol inhaler daily. [Tr. 69]

         Robertson was admitted to and discharged from Good Samaritan Hospital on August 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">16, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13, with diagnoses of alcohol intoxication and acetaminophen overdose. [Tr. 321');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1] She reported that she had taken approximately 20 extra-strength Tylenol tablets and had drank three or four beers, but “denied vehemently” that she attempted suicide. Id. Rather, Robertson reported, she was upset after an argument with her ex-husband. [Tr. 321');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1, 324] Hospital staff agreed following a psychiatric evaluation that the incident likely was not a suicide attempt. [Tr. 321');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1] Accordingly, Robertson was deemed stable and discharged to home. [Tr. 31');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15-1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">16]

         Wayne Edwards, M.D., performed a consultative examination in December 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13. Robertson told Dr. Edwards that she had “no idea” why she was there. Edwards noted that Robertson gave poor effort periodically throughout the interview. [Tr. 387] Dr. Edwards also observed that Robertson was alone and had driven herself forty miles to attend the examination. [Tr. 389] Her mood was nervous and she had poor eye contact, but her speech was coherent and normal. [Tr. 389] Robertson knew that it was a Saturday in December 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13, but did not know the date. [Tr. 389] She named Kennedy as a recent president but was unable to recall the number of weeks in a year or how an orange and a banana are similar. [Tr. 390]

         Robertson advised Dr. Edwards that she was depressed, anxious, and tearful every day and had no idea how it began. Id. She reported decreased energy, concentration and appetite. Robertson further advised Edwards that she “live[d] for nothing” and reported having been in the “psychiatric hospital” at Good Samaritan in August 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">16. [Tr. 388]

         Dr. Edwards assigned Robertson a Global Assessment of Functioning score of 60 to 65 and indicated that she was able to perform simple work-related tasks.[1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1" name="FN1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1" id="FN1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1] [Tr. 391');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1-92] He believed that she could work without special supervision, but could benefit from a period of supervised training. [Tr. 392] She demonstrated an ability to adapt to changes in a day-to-day work setting without significant impairment. Edwards opined that Robertson was able to work eight hours a day, five days a week, without significant psychiatric symptoms, and could improve with counseling and medication. [Tr. 392]

         Robertson sought treatment for depression and anxiety at the Mountain Comprehensive Care Center (“MCCC”) in early 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">14. [Tr. 395] She reported sleep disturbances, irritability, suicidal thoughts, flashbacks, and bulimia in addition to symptoms of depression and anxiety. [Tr. 395] Robertson also stated that she had been cutting herself for two years. [Tr. 396] The counselor who performed Robertson's initial assessment found that her memory, insight, and judgment were intact. [Tr. 400] However, Robertson admitted to suicidal ideations and exhibited only fair eye contact. [Tr. 399-400] The counselor assigned Robertson a GAF score of 45. [Tr. 400]

         Robertson returned to MCCC for a psychiatric evaluation on March 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">14, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">14. [Tr. 408] James Dumas, M.D., observed that Robertson's behavior was agitated and resistant, but that she had no thought abnormalities. [Tr. 409] Dr. Dumas believed that Robertson was depressed and that her judgment and insight were impaired, but that she was not at risk for suicide. Id. He diagnosed the claimant with bulimia and major depression and assigned a GAF score of 60. [Tr. 41');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1-1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">12] Dr. Dumas noted that Robertson refused medication but stated she would consider it in the future. [Tr. 41');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">12] Robertson followed-up with a counseling ...

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