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Travers v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division

March 11, 2019

ERIC TRAVERS PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Lanny King, Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's complaint seeking judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the final decision of the Commissioner denying his claim for Social Security disability benefits. The fact and law summaries of the parties are at Dockets # 11 and 14. 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. (Docket # 9.) The matter is ripe for determination.

         This is a disability claim pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Plaintiff was not disabled between November 2013, when he last worked as a school teacher and alleges he became disabled, and June 2014, when his insured status for Title II benefits expired. [Administrative Record (“AR”) at 19.] PLAINTIFF alleges disability due to severe social anxiety disorder and depression.[1] He received treatment for these impairments at Kelley Psychiatric Clinic in Paducah, Kentucky from psychiatrist Ronald L. Kelley and licensed clinical psychologist Raymond Gordon Williams, Ph.D. He argues that the ALJ erred in rejecting the disabling opinions of Drs. Williams and Kelley.

         Because the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and Plaintiff's argument is unpersuasive, the Court will AFFIRM the Commissioner's final decision and DISMISS Plaintiff's complaint.

         Plaintiff's disability claim PLAINTIFF was born in 1972. [AR at 255.] He was an only child and grew up in relative social isolation. [Id.] He worked on a large cattle farm in Livingston County, Kentucky, which his paternal grandfather managed. [AR at 286.] ¶ 1995, he graduated from Murray State University with a bachelor's degree in animal science. [Id.] ¶ 1995 through 2009, he worked on another large farm in Livingston County. [Id.] PLAINTIFF married a school teacher, who influenced him to get a master's degree in education. [AR at 116, 286.] ¶ 2009, he began teaching at Livingston County Middle School. [Id.] He testified that, at first, he loved teaching, but the new principal overwhelmed him with paperwork “before you even get to the classroom, ” “expectations, ” “pressures, ” and “meeting after meeting, ” which “I just dreaded.” [AR at 117.]

         In February 2013, Plaintiff was hospitalized because he thought he was having a heart attack. [AR at 113.] It wound up being related to job stress. [Id.] In November 2013, Plaintiff was put on medical leave because he could not continue in the classroom due to his severe anxiety. [AR at 286-87.]

         In February or March 2014, Plaintiff began pursuing his Social Security disability claim and began treatment at Kelley Psychiatric Clinic in Paducah, Kentucky, with psychiatrist Ronald L. Kelley and licensed clinical psychologist Raymond Gordon Williams, Ph.D. [AR at 285.] Dr. Kelley prescribed a wide variety of psychotropic medication, including Doxepin, Trazadone, Brintellix, Gabepentin, Topomax, Flexeril, Klonopin and Buspar. (Docket # 11 at 5 referencing AR at 566-96, 636-55.)

         In March 2014, upon counsel's suggestion, Dr. Williams submitted a formal Psychological Evaluation and completed the Medical Source Statement of Ability to Do Work-Related Activities (Mental) form. [AR at 285-94.] In December 2015, Dr. Kelley completed a similar form. [AR at 656-57.]

         The opinions of Drs. Williams and Kelley Dr. Williams diagnosed Social Anxiety Disorder (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), Section 300.23). [AR at 290.] Dr. Williams opined that Plaintiff is “currently unable to involve himself in any type of substantial gainful employment due to a severe social anxiety problem with accompanying cognitive deficits and social withdrawal and inhibition”; Plaintiff's “long-standing social inhibitions … are becoming more pronounced with the aging process”; however, Plaintiff “may eventually be able to return to the work force assuming amelioration of his current significant mental health problems.” [AR at 291.]

         Dr. Williams found that Plaintiff is “markedly” limited in his abilities to: 1) Interact appropriately with the public; 2) Interact appropriately with supervisor(s); 3) Interact appropriately with co-workers; 4) Respond appropriately to work pressures in a usual work setting; 5) Respond appropriately to changes in a routine work setting; 6) Understand and remember detailed instructions; 7) Carry out detailed instructions; and 8) Ability to make judgments on simple work-related decisions. [AR at 292-93.]

         Dr. Kelley found that Plaintiff is “extremely” limited in his abilities to: 1) Remember locations and work-like procedures; 2) Maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; 3) Perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within customary tolerances; 4) Work in coordination with proximity to others without being distracted by them; 5) Compete a normal workday and work week without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable No. and length of rest periods; 6) Get along with coworkers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes; and 7) Respond to changes in the work setting. [AR at 656-57.]

         It is undisputed that acceptance of the opinions of Drs. Williams and Kelley would require an ultimate finding of disability.

         The ALJ's decision The ALJ credited the opinions of Drs. Williams and Kelley only to the extent of her residual functional capacity (RFC) finding, which allowed Plaintiff to perform a significant No. of jobs in the national economy. Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, and mentally he can:

… do simple, routine, repetitive work tasks, meaning tasks that apply commonsense understanding to carry out instructions furnished in written, oral, or diagrammatic form, with the ability to deal with problems involving several concrete variables in or from standardized situations. The claimant could occasionally interact with coworkers and supervisors but could not maintain sustained interaction with the public. The claimant could ...

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