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Franklin v. Berryhill

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

March 11, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT


          Lanny King, Magistrate Judge United States District Court

         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 her claim for Social Security disability benefits. The fact and law summaries of the parties are at Dockets # 12 and 13. 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 # 11.) The matter is ripe for determination.

         Because Plaintiff's arguments are unpersuasive and the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ's”) decision is supported by substantial evidence, the Court will AFFIRM the Commissioner's final decision and DISMISS Plaintiff's complaint.

         Background facts and procedural history

         Plaintiff was born in April 1995. [Administrative Record (“AR”) at 558.] In January 2015, she applied for supplemental security income benefits and child's disability insurance benefits, alleging she became disabled before age 22. [AR at 14.] She alleges disability solely due to mental impairments (affective disorder, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder). [AR at 17.]

         In May 2015, Plaintiff was examined at the request of the Commissioner by licensed clinical psychologist Lisa M. King, Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology), HSP (Health Service Provider). Among other things, Dr. King made a “provisional” finding that Plaintiff would be markedly limited in her ability to sustain attention and concentration for even simple, repetitive tasks. [AR at 560.] Dr. King “suspected poor effort” and indicated a need to “rule out malingering.” [Id.]

         In June and September 2015, in light of Dr. King's findings and the record as a whole, the Commissioner's non-examining consultants Tonya Gonzalez, Psy.D., and Alex Guerrero, M.D., found no more than moderate limitation in any functional area. [AR at 74-78, 103-08.]

         In June 2017, Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist John Sallee, M.D., completed the standard mental assessment form, finding that Plaintiff is no more than moderately limited in all 20 categories. [AR at 848- 49.]

         In July 2017, Plaintiff's therapist at Four Rivers Behavioral Health, Christine Vigil, LPCA (Licensed Professional Counseling Association) completed the same mental assessment form. [AR at 872-73.] Unlike Dr. Sallee, who found no more than moderate limitation, Ms. Vigil found that Plaintiff is extremely limited in 4 areas, markedly limited in 7 areas, moderately limited in 8 areas, and slightly limited in only 1 area (ability to be aware of normal hazards and take appropriate precautions). [Id.]

         In her written decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has no vocationally significant physical limitation but has the following mental limitations:

… [Plaintiff] is limited to understanding, remembering and carrying out simple one to two step instructions. She can sustain concentration, persistence and pace for two-hour segments of time for an eight-hour workday. She needs to avoid work that is production or quota-rated. Changes in the workplace should be rare or gradually introduced. She can have occasionally contact with coworkers and supervisors, but no contact with the public.

[AR at 18.]

         In making the above mental residual functional capacity (RFC) determination, the ALJ gave no weight to Dr. King's opinion in light of Plaintiff's “failure to fully cooperate and put forth sufficient effort to interpret the assessment results.” [AR at 24.] The ALJ gave great weight to the opinions of Drs. Gonzalez and Guerrero. [AR at 23.] The ALJ gave great weight to Dr. Sallee's opinion because it was “consistent with his treatment notes reflecting a positive response to medication management.” [Id.] The ALJ gave little weight to Ms. Vigil's findings because they were “greater than can be supported by the treatment notes from Four Rivers as well as those of Dr. Sallee” and they were “not consistent with [Plaintiff's] positive response to treatment and her ability to regain custody of and care for her three young children.” [Id.]

         At the administrative hearing, the ALJ presented two hypothetical questions to a vocational expert (VE). The first hypothetical contemplated an individual of Plaintiff's age, education, and prior work experience, with the above mental RFC. The VE testified that the individual could perform a significant No. of jobs in the national economy such as bundle clerk, dryer attendant, and factory helper. [AR at 65-66.] Specifically, the VE testified that the job of bundle clerk is listed in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) at 361-687-022 and there are 58, 000 compatible bundle clerk jobs in the national economy; dryer attendant is DOT 581-686-018 and there are 22, 000 compatible jobs; factory helper is DOT 520.687- 022 and there are 35, 000 compatible jobs. [AR at 65-66.] The second hypothetical contemplated an individual would be expected ...

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