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Wells v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky

June 22, 2017

TAMMIE WELLS, Plaintiff,


          Joseph M. Hood, Senior U.S. District Judge

         This matter is before the Court upon cross motions for summary judgment [Des 10 and 12]. For the reasons stated below, the Acting Commissioner's motion for summary judgment will be granted.

         The Court's review of the Acting Commissioner's decision concerning disability upon reconsideration is limited to an inquiry into whether the findings of the Acting Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence, and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 401 (1971). Further, this Court's review is limited “to the particular points that [the claimant] appears to raise in [his] brief on appeal.” Hollon v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 447 F.3d 477, 491 (6th Cir. 2006).

         Tammie Wells (“Wells” or “Plaintiff”) filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on April 25, 2013, alleging disability commencing on November 5, 2010. [R. 215]. After being denied initially and upon reconsideration, Wells filed a Request for Hearing on October 16, 2013. [R. 162]. Her case was heard by Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Gloria B. York, who issued an unfavorable decision on January 27, 2015. [R. 27-50].

         In her denial decision, the ALJ found Wells could perform medium exertion work, with restrictions to perform only routine repetitive tasks with occasional interaction with supervisors and coworkers, no interaction with the general public and no fast-paced work. [R. 36]. Wells contends this finding is not supported by the treating or examining evidence of record.

         Wells further contends when determining Ms. Wells' Residual Functional Capacity (RFC), the ALJ failed to give proper weight to the well-supported, disabling opinions of the consultative examiner. The ALJ, in Wells's view, also erroneously attributed the claimant's serious mental health problems to past drug use, and in discrediting the claimant's testimony.

         Plaintiff was 43 years old as of the date of the ALJ's decision [R. 55, 215, 222]. She has a high school equivalent education has a waste disposal attendant and industrial cleaner [R. 73, 228-37, 239, 259-67]. She alleged disability since November 5, 2010 [R. 215], due to depression; bipolar, psychotic, and post-traumatic stress disorders; and an irregular heartbeat [R. 248, 279-81, 296, 299].

         On March 23, 2012, Plaintiff presented to Good Samaritan Hospital after “doing odd things” over the prior three days [R. 311]. A toxicology screening was positive for methamphetamine [R. 311]. She underwent treatment with Risperdal (an antipsychotic)[R. 313]. The following day, she appeared closer to baseline, either because of the effects of methamphetamine wearing off or the medications [R. 313]. Six days later, she was diagnosed with psychotic disorder not otherwise specified for substance-induced psychosis [R. 311] and discharged with prescriptions for medications [R. 313].

         In April 2012, Plaintiff presented to Diana Ball, CSW, for psychotherapy [R. 356]. She reported that she continued to use methamphetamine after her hospitalization and did not want to be there [R. 356-57].

         A month later in May 2012, she complained to Michelle Walden, APRN, of depression [R. 361]. She said she had not used alcohol or illicit drugs for a month [R. 362]. Ms. Walden diagnosed polysubstance abuse and post-traumatic stress and mood disorders [R. 365].

         In February 2013, Plaintiff presented to Teresa Casey, APRN, with complaints of high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), depression, and bipolar disorder [R. 376]. Ms. Casey diagnosed cardiac dysrhythmia and hypertension [R. 378]. Later that month, she underwent an electrocardiogram stress test, which did not produce chest pain and showed no ectopy or arrhythmia [R. 391-92].

         On June 5, 2013, Marc Plavin, Ph.D., examined Plaintiff at the request of the state agency [R. 339-46]. Plaintiff said she could perform tasks associated with using the telephone and postal service, budgeting her money, toileting, bathing, feeding, dressing, going to the grocery store, doing her laundry and dishes, cooking, sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming independently without supervision [R. 344]. She reported a history of sexual abuse, sad moods, agitation, anxiety, auditory hallucinations, and sleep disturbance [R. 345]. She said she used methamphetamine on a regular basis for a year and a half ending six months prior [R. 345].

         Dr. Plavin found that she was well oriented and had a good memory and judgment; fair ability to calculate and reason abstractly; and fair to poor fund of information [R. 345]. Dr. Plavin diagnosed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with psychotic symptoms; rule out psychotic disorder; methamphetamine abuse in early full remission; and history of alcohol abuse [R. 345]. He said Plaintiff had good ability to conduct her activities of daily living and understand and remember simple instructions; fair ability to interact socially with people that she knew and sustain concentration, persistence, or pace; and poor ability to interact socially with the public and people at work, tolerate stress, and respond to the pressures of a day-today work setting [R. 346]. No objective testing was performed by Dr. Plavin.

         On June 13, 2013, Judith LaMarche, Ph.D., a state agency psychologist, reviewed the evidence and said Plaintiff would perform best in a position with the demands of only simple, routine, repetitive tasks in a low public exposure setting with little time pressure [R. 81-94].

         Plaintiff continued to see Ms. Walden from June 2013 to July 2014. In August 2013, she said she started taking Abilify (an antipsychotic) after she stopped taking Risperdal on her own and was experiencing psychotic symptoms [R. 348]. She stated she had not used illicit drugs for eight months [R. 348]. Ms. Walden diagnosed PTSD, amphetamine abuse, and a mood disorder [R. 350] and adjusted Plaintiff's medications [R. 351].

         In September 2013, Diosdado Irlandez, M.D., a state agency physician, reviewed the evidence and said Plaintiff did not have a severe physical impairment [R. 111-24].

         Later that month, Plaintiff told Ms. Walden that she took Prozac (an antidepressant) and had a stable mood [R. 410]. She also reported that she had been sober for nine to 10 months [Tr. 410].

         In January 2014, Plaintiff presented to Ms. Walden, requesting a change in her Risperdal [R. 401]. She reported that she had not relapsed on methamphetamine in over 12 months [R. 401]. Ms. Walden described Plaintiff's mood as “stable” and said she was “best [she had] ever seen her” [R. 402]. She ...

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