United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division
JUDITH A. ROBERTS, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
J. Hale, United States District Court.
Judith Roberts filed this action seeking review of the
Commissioner of Social Security's decision to deny her
application for disability-insurance benefits. (Docket No. 1)
The case was referred to Magistrate Judge Lanny L. King for
report and recommendation. Judge King issued his Findings of
Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation on January 1,
2019, recommending that the Commissioner's decision be
affirmed and that Roberts's complaint be dismissed. (D.N.
24) Roberts timely filed an objection to Judge King's
report and recommendation. (D.N. 27) After careful
consideration, the Court will overrule the objection and
adopt Judge King's Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law,
27, 2014, Roberts filed an application for
disability-insurance benefits asserting that she was unable
to work due to her post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive
compulsive disorder, social phobia, anxiety, panic attacks,
poor memory and concentration, and paranoia. (D.N. 1, PageID
# 2; D.N. 13-2, PageID # 121) The Commissioner denied the
application on August 20, 2014, and again on October 3, 2014.
(D.N. 1, PageID # 2) Roberts thereafter filed a request for a
hearing before an administrative law judge. (Id.) On
August 25, 2016, the ALJ issued an opinion denying
Roberts's claims, finding that Roberts has the residual
functional capacity to perform a “full range of work at
all exertional levels” with some nonexertional limits.
(D.N. 13-2, PageID # 65) The ALJ also found that considering
Roberts's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there
are jobs that exist in significant No. in the national
economy that she can perform. (Id., PageID # 69) The
appeals council denied Roberts's request for review.
(D.N. 1, PageID # 2)
filed this action on January 26, 2018, challenging the
Commissioner's denial of her claims. (D.N. 1) The Court
referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Lanny L. King, who
recommended that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed
and that Roberts's complaint be dismissed with prejudice.
(D.N. 24) Roberts timely filed objections to Judge King's
recommendation. (D.N. 27)
party objects to a report and recommendation, the Court
reviews de novo only those portions of the report to which
objection is made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). The Court
may adopt without review any portion of the report to which
no objection is made. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S.
140, 150 (1985); Skaggs v. Berryhill, No.
3:17-CV-631-DJH-LLK, 2018 WL 4219194, at *2 (W.D. Ky.
Sept. 5, 2018). Accordingly, the Court will review de novo
only the portion of Judge King's recommendation to which
Commissioner has promulgated regulations setting forth a
five-step sequential process for evaluating whether a
claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(1). Only
step five is at issue here. (D.N. 24; D.N. 27) Having already
concluded that a claimant cannot perform past relevant work
due to her impairment, at step five, the ALJ considers the
claimant's residual functioning capacity (RFC) with her
age, education, and work experience to determine whether she
can perform any other work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). If
the claimant cannot perform any other work, the Commissioner
will find that she is disabled. Walters v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 529 (6th Cir. 1997).
reviewing an ALJ's decision, the Court asks
‘whether it is supported by substantial evidence and
was made pursuant to proper legal standards.'”
Skaggs, 2018 WL 4219194, at *3 (citing Rogers v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir.
2007) (citations omitted)). “Substantial evidence is
defined as more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a
preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Rogers, 486 F.3d at 241. The Court must affirm the ALJ's
decision if it is supported by substantial evidence.
Staymate v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 681 Fed.Appx.
462, 466 (6th Cir. 2017) (citations omitted). “The
findings of the [ALJ] are not subject to reversal merely
because there exists in the record substantial evidence to
support a different conclusion.” Buxton v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th Cir.
2001); see also Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203
F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999) (“Even if the evidence
could also support another conclusion, the decision of the
Administrative Law Judge must stand if the evidence could
reasonably support the conclusion reached.”).
objects to Judge King's conclusion that the ALJ's RFC
findings were supported by substantial evidence. (D.N. 27,
PageID # 908) Roberts first contests the ALJ's finding
that her mental health is stable. (D.N. 13-7, PageID #
369-70) Roberts asserts that the ALJ incorrectly looked to
treatment goals rather than descriptions of her current
functioning. (D.N. 27, PageID # 909) But the ALJ cited
portions of Kimberly Busbey and psychiatrist Navinchandra
Shah's records that do show Roberts's functioning was
stable. (D.N. 13-2, PageID # 66; D.N. 13-7, PageID
# 595, 599, 603, 607, 612, 622; D.N. 13-8, PageID # 666, 680,
694, 700, 823-39) Contrary to Busbey's assessment, the
description of Roberts's health in Busbey's records
is consistent over the term of treatment. (D.N. 13-7, PageID
# 595, 599, 603, 607, 612, 622) The ALJ, then, did not err in
finding that Roberts's medical records showed stable
functioning because the evidence reasonably supports such a
conclusion. See Buxton, 246 F.3d at 772; see
also Her, 203 F.3d at 389-90.
explained why she gave little weight to Busbey's
assessment. (D.N. 13-2, PageID # 68; D.N. 13-7, PageID #
369-70; D.N. 24, PageID # 899) See Social Security Ruling
(SSR) 06-03p, 2006 WL 2329939, at *2. Busbey only worked with
Roberts for a short period of time, which did not allow
Busbey's opinion to reflect the impact of treatment.
(D.N. 13-2, PageID # 68) As discussed above, Busbey's
records showed that Roberts's functioning was stable
(D.N. 13-7, PageID # 595, 599, 603, 607, 612, 622), as did
medical records provided by Dr. Shah. (D.N. 13-8, PageID #
823-39) Finally, Judge King noted that Busbey is a licensed
clinical social worker whose opinions are not acceptable
medical sources. (D.N. 24, PageID # 898 (citing SSR 06-03p,
2006 WL 2329939, at *2)) Judge King concluded that the ALJ
adequately explained her decision to discount Busbey's
opinions. (D.N. 24, PageID # 898-99) See SSR 06-03p, 2006 WL
2329939, at *2. This Court agrees that substantial evidence
supported the ALJ's decision to give little weight to
next cites portions of the record that conflict with the
ALJ's RFC findings. (D.N. 27, PageID # 910) However, the
mere presence of contrary evidence does not warrant reversal
of the ALJ's decision; if the ALJ's decision is
supported by substantial evidence, the Court must defer to
the ALJ. Staymate, 681 Fed.Appx. at 466; Blakley v.
Comm'r, 581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir. 2009). Here, the
ALJ's decision was supported by and clearly identifies
substantial evidence supporting her RFC finding. (D.N. 13-2,
PageID # 65-68) Dr. Shah's medical records (D.N. 13-7,
PageID # 570), Busbey's records (D.N. 13-7, PageID # 595,
599, 603, 607, 612, 622), the vocational expert opinion (D.N.
13-3, PageID # 129-33), and state agency opinions (D.N. 13-3,
PageID # 125-32) support the ALJ's findings. The evidence
cited by Roberts does not justify overruling the ALJ's
decision. See Buxton, 246 F.3d at 772.
Roberts contends that the ALJ should have given more weight
to her consistently low global assessment of functioning
(GAF) scores. (D.N. 27, PageID # 911-12) However, the Court
is “not aware of any statutory, regulatory, or other
authority requiring the ALJ to put stock in a GAF score in
the first place.” Kornecky v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec.,167 Fed.Appx. 496, 511 (6th Cir. 2006). “If
other substantial evidence . . . supports the conclusion that
[Roberts] is not disabled, the court may not disturb the
denial of benefits to a claimant [with a low] GAF
score.” Id. Additionally, vocational expert
reports regarding a claimant's ability to work can
justify giving little weight to a low GAF score. Id.
at 511-12. Here, the ALJ noted Roberts's low GAF scores
but explained that they deserved little weight because they
were inconsistent with the records of both Dr. Shah and
Busbey as well as the vocational expert's opinion. (D.N.
13-2, PageID # 68; see ...