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Smith v. Astrue

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 30, 2013

SHARON SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL JAMES ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

Page 154

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 155

For SHARON SMITH, Plaintiff: Stephen F. Shea, LEAD ATTORNEY, ELKIND & SHEA, Silver Spring, MD.

For MICHAEL JAMES ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Mary Ellen Russell, LEAD ATTORNEY, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Office of the General Counsel, Baltimore, MD.

OPINION

Page 156

COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Sharon Smith brings this action seeking review of the final administrative decision by Defendant Michael James Astrue, in his official capacity as Commissioner of Social Security, denying the Plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income Benefits. Presently before the Court are the Plaintiff's [15] Motion for Judgment of Reversal, and the Defendant's [17] Motion for Judgment of Affirmance. Upon consideration of the pleadings, the administrative record, and the relevant legal authorities, the Court finds the administrative decision is not procedurally deficient and is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, for the reasons stated below, the Plaintiff's motion is DENIED and the Defendant's motion is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

The Plaintiff is a thirty seven year-old female resident of Washington, D.C. A.R. 42. The Plaintiff was placed in special education classes and completed the ninth grade, but dropped out of high school in the tenth grade. A.R. 26-27. The Plaintiff entered the Job Corps and received a certificate in food service. Id. at 220. Her relevant work experience includes employment as a housekeeper, security officer, food service provider, and sales associate/cashier. A.R. 132; id. at 28-30. On July 11 and July 18, 2006, the Plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income Benefits pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act respectively, citing her asthma and hyperthyroidism. Id. at 42, 43. To qualify for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, a claimant must demonstrate a disability, which is defined by the Act as an " inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(1); id. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). In addition, a claimant seeking disability or supplemental security income benefits must have a severe impairment that makes her unable to perform past relevant work or any other substantial gainful work that exists in the national economy. Id. § 423(d)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). Substantial gainful work activity is work activity that involves

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doing significant physical or mental activities and is the kind of work that is usually done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(a)-(b).

The Plaintiff's applications were initially denied. Id. at 42-43, 47-49. The Plaintiff moved for reconsideration, indicating cognitive and mood disorders as the basis for her claim. Id. at 45, 46. The Plaintiff's applications were once again denied upon reconsideration. Id. At the Plaintiff's request, an administrative law judge (" ALJ" ) held a hearing on the Plaintiff's applications, during which the Plaintiff, represented by counsel, and a Vocational Expert testified. A.R. 57 (Request for Hearing); id. at 21-41 (Hearing Tr.). [1] In addition to this testimony, the ALJ considered the opinions submitted by three experts: Dr. Robert Barnes, Dr. Barry Hurwitz, and Dr. Vincent Greenwood. Dr. Barnes examined the Plaintiff in March 2007. A.R. 216. Dr. Barnes noted that the Plaintiff's medical records indicated no history of anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, suicidal ideation, or schizophrenia. Id. The Plaintiff received a full scale IQ score of 64, indicating mild mental retardation. Id. at 217. However, Dr. Barnes explained that " because of the verbal remarks during scoring and many of her answers following a period of processing," in his opinion the Plaintiff " was misrepresenting answers." A.R. 219; id. (" We cannot know if these scores are trustworthy under the spector of malingering." ). The Plaintiff disclosed " certain indications of a thought disorder," including confusion, difficulty concentrating, and paranoia, but Dr. Barnes concluded the symptoms were insufficient to diagnosis a thought disorder. Id. at 222. The Plaintiff stated she had symptoms of bipolar disorder, but admitted she had never been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Id. at 219-220. Dr. Barnes diagnosed the Plaintiff with mild mental retardation but declined to diagnose depression because it may have been a side effect of her medications. Id. at 222.

Dr. Barry Hurwitz, the state agency expert, reviewed Dr. Barnes' report, noting that " Dr. Barnes submitted a report with opinions that appear to be inconsistent." A.R. 228. Dr. Hurwitz explained that Dr. Barnes " indicated that there was evidence to suggest that the formal test results could not be trusted," yet went on to diagnose mental retardation " without providing sufficient alternative clinical data." Id. Moreover, Dr. Barnes " present[ed] no rationale for differentiating between what he opines are reliable statements made by the Claimant and those that are fabrications or exaggerations." Id. Dr. Hurwitz noted that " [o]ther comments by Dr. Barnes indicate that the Claimant is more functionally competent than reflected in some aspects of her clinical presentation." Id. Dr. Hurwitz opined " there is sufficient information to conclude the Claimant's credibility is questionable," but " [n]evertheless, she suffers a mental impairment," in the form of a cognitive disorder (not otherwise specified), mood disorder (not otherwise specified), and personality disorder (not otherwise specified). Id. at 229. Dr. Barnes also completed a mental residual functional capacity analysis, discussed in detail infra .

Dr. Vincent Greenwood examined the Plaintiff in May 2007. A.R. 251. Dr. Greenwood noted that there was " a complaining quality" to many of the Plaintiff's comments, ...


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