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McLaurin v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

August 14, 2015

Samuel McLaurin, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

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          For SAMUEL MCLAURIN, Plaintiff: Stephen F. Shea, ELKIND & SHEA, Silver Spring, MD.

         For CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Alexander Lee Cristaudo, LEAD ATTORNEY, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Philadelphia, PA.

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         Amit P. Mehta, United States District Judge.


         Plaintiff Samuel McLaurin seeks judicial review of a Social Security Administration (SSA) decision that denied his application for child's insurance benefits. The question before the court is a discrete one: Did the Administrate Law Judge (ALJ) who reviewed the denial of Plaintiff's claim for benefits adequately consider and weigh the expert reports of a psychologist who evaluated and rendered an opinion regarding Plaintiff's developmental and learning disabilities? The court concludes that she did. The Administrative Law Judge correctly applied the controlling regulations and sufficiently explained why she did not find Plaintiff's psychologist's reports convincing. The court thus denies Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment of Reversal and grants Defendant's Motion for Judgment of Affirmance.


         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff Samuel McLaurin was born on December 5, 1988. Within the first few years of his life, he was diagnosed with several impairments, including mild cerebral palsy and " severe visual perceptual and visual processing problems." Administrative Record, ECF No. 4-7, at 294-302 [hereinafter " AR 4-[ECF Exhibit No.]" ]. Though he was expected to face academic difficulties, id., Plaintiff graduated from high school in 2008 at the age of 19. Soon thereafter, Plaintiff began attending a " job readiness" training program at a vocational rehabilitation clinic to help address difficulties involving his ability to concentrate and to work with others. AR 4-2 at 19; AR 4-6 at 289. Plaintiff worked a temporary job in conjunction with his vocational rehabilitation, where counselors reported that he did " a good job" and excelled at " assembly type of work." AR 4-6 at 247. Plaintiff has had no other work experience. AR 4-2 at 53-54.

         While still attending the vocational rehabilitation program, Plaintiff saw Dr. Gordon Teichner, a licensed clinical psychologist, on four occasions between April 21, 2009, and June 22, 2009. AR 4-7 at 303. In a report dated October 29, 2009, Dr. Teichner produced a neuropsychological assessment based on his findings from clinical interviews, intelligence tests, psychological

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testing, and other performance-related academic achievement tests. Id. The report identified numerous impairments, including deficits resulting from " right hemisphere dysfunction" and the " documented event of neonatal hypoxic encephalopathy," as well as deficits to " visual processing, visual spatial skills, and visual memory" that " make it difficult for him to efficiently perform functions that require such skills." AR 4-7 at 309-10. Dr. Teichner's report also noted additional deficits that impaired Plaintiff's handwriting abilities, ability to maintain attention, behavioral functioning, interpersonal relations, and emotional balance. AR 4-7 at 310. Dr. Teichner assigned Plaintiff a Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) score of 45--which indicates a low level of functioning, AR 4-6 at 292 (citing Am. Psychiatric Ass'n, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) 30-32 (4th ed. 1996)--and a Full Scale IQ (FSIQ) score of 83. AR 4-7 at 305, 309.

         Plaintiff became eligible for child's insurance benefits under the Social Security Act when his father, James McLaurin, died on October 10, 2010. AR 4-2 at 16; 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a)(5). Plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits with the SSA on October 28, 2010. AR 4-2 at 16. In his application, Plaintiff identified six disabilities: diaphragmatic hernia-hypoxia at birth; cerebral palsy; a learning disability; right-side brain damage; a repetitive disorder; and asthma. AR No. 4-6 at 231-32.

         During Plaintiff's SSA application process, Dr. R. Allen Lish performed a consultative evaluation in conjunction with the review of Plaintiff's application. Def.'s Mem., ECF No. 8, at 5. Dr. Lish memorialized his findings in a report dated March 17, 2011. AR No. 4-7 at 322-34. His report highlighted observations that Plaintiff seemed to be " a man of below average intelligence" whose " mental status and cognitive abilities appear[ ] diminished." AR 4-7 at 323. However, Dr. Lish found that Plaintiff could manage his daily living needs without assistance and believed that Plaintiff " does seem capable of independent living with proper support." AR 4-7 at 324. Dr. Lish reported Plaintiff's GAF score as 55. Id. Subsequently, upon request by the ALJ, several other health care professionals reached similar conclusions after reviewing Plaintiff's medical records and related medical opinions. AR 4-7 at 342-53.

         The SSA denied Plaintiff's initial application on May 1, 2011, and on June 30, 2011, denied an appeal for reconsideration of the decision. AR 4-2 at 16. On June 26, 2011, Plaintiff responded with a request for an administrative hearing. AR 4-4 at 126-30.

         Shortly thereafter, on July 1, 2011, Dr. Teichner submitted an additional letter addressed to the SSA that reaffirmed the findings and opinions articulated in his 2009 report. AR 4-7 at 359-62. Dr. Teichner opined that Plaintiff " has never demonstrated sufficient capacity to gain and maintain meaningful employment" despite extensive assistance from vocational rehabilitation services for over three years. AR 4-7 at 361 (emphasis in original).

         On February 17, 2012, Dr. Teichner submitted another report that directly addressed the guidelines for disability outlined by the Social Security Act. AR 4-7 at 364-74. In that report, Dr. Teichner identified himself as Plaintiff's " treating psychologist," AR 4-7 at 364, again listed the impairments discussed in his 2009 report and 2011 letter, and stated that Plaintiff's GAF score was 40, AR 4-7 at 365. Dr. Teichner also opined that the prospect of Plaintiff working in a non-sheltered work

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setting is " extremely poor and highly improbable." AR 4-7 at ...

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