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Woodbury v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maine

October 4, 2015

NICOLE WOODBURY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION [1]

JOHN H. RICH, III, Magistrate Judge.

The plaintiff in this Social Security Disability ("SSD") appeal contends that the administrative law judge wrongly weighed the opinions of several medical sources and erred in relying on Appendix 2 to 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P (the "Grid"). I recommend that the court affirm the commissioner's decision.

In accordance with the commissioner's sequential evaluation process, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Goodermote v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 690 F.2d 5, 6 (1982), the administrative law judge found, in relevant part, that the plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2016, Finding 1, Record at 19; that she suffered from affective disorder/bipolar disorder and substance abuse disorder/cannabis (marijuana) abuse v. dependence with ongoing current use, impairments that were severe but which, considered separately or in combination, did not meet or equal the criteria of any impairment listed in Appendix 1 to 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P (the "Listings"), Findings 3-4, id. at 19-20; that she had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work at all exertional levels except that she could understand and remember simple instructions, accomplish simple tasks on a consistent schedule to complete a workday and workweek, could interact with coworkers and supervisors but not the general public, and could adapt to occasional changes in the routine workplace, Finding 5, id. at 21-22; that she was unable to perform any past relevant work, Finding 6, id. at 24; that, given her age (28 on the alleged date of onset of disability, September 1, 2012), at least high school education, work experience, and RFC, and using the Grid as a framework for decision-making, there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform, Findings 7-10, id. at 25; and that, therefore, she had not been under a disability, as that term is defined in the Social Security Act, at any time through the date of the decision, August 20, 2014, Finding 11, id. at 26. The Appeals Council declined to review the decision, id. at 6-8, making it the final determination of the commissioner, 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, Dupuis v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 869 F.2d 622, 623 (1st Cir. 1989).

The standard of review of the commissioner's decision is whether the determination made is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C § 405(g); Manso-Pizarro v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 76 F.3d 15, 16 (1st Cir. 1996). In other words, the determination must be supported by such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion drawn. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Rodriguez v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981).

The administrative law judge reached Step 5 of the sequential evaluation process, at which stage the burden of proof shifts to the commissioner to show that a claimant can perform work other than her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987); Goodermote, 690 F.2d at 7. The record must contain substantial evidence in support of the commissioner's findings regarding the plaintiff's RFC to perform such other work. Rosado v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 807 F.2d 292, 294 (1st Cir. 1986).

I. Discussion

A. Opinion of Treating Physician

The plaintiff contends that the reasons given by the administrative law judge for not giving "serious weight" to the opinions of Arthur Dingley, D.O., a treating psychiatrist, "ignore[] the evidence" and result in undue reliance on the opinions of state-agency reviewing psychologists, requiring remand. Itemized Statement of Specific Errors ("Itemized Statement") (ECF No. 13) at 5-6. In addition, she asserts, the administrative law judge impermissibly interpreted raw medical evidence, because the RFC that he assigned to the plaintiff does not correspond to the limitations assessed by Dr. Dingley or by Susan Lichtman, Ph.D., a state-agency reviewing psychologist. Id. at 6.

The administrative law judge recounted in his opinion the plaintiff's history with Dr. Dingley, quoting repeatedly from his treatment records. Record at 22-23. He addressed the opinions upon which the plaintiff apparently relies[2] as follows:

In the wake of this data, then, as it concerns opinion evidence, the undersigned has considered a recent mental assessment by Dr. Dingley, but cannot give it serious weight (Exhibit 15F). Despite the psychiatrist's status as a treating provider, his report is neither contemporaneous nor consistent with the overall treatment record. More specifically, the doctor completed the assessment in July 2014, yet the record reflects no interaction between the claimant and the doctor over the preceding 9 months[, ] where her last appointment appears in October 2013 (Exhibit 11F/13), and after which, the claimant began therapeutic counseling with Sheila Hoyt, L.C.S.W. at Franklin Behavioral Health (Exhibit 11F/11), whom the claimant continues to see (Exhibit 14F). When questioned by the undersigned in this matter, counsel said at hearing that he had submitted all available medical evidence, including all records from Franklin Behavioral Health (testimony).
Furthermore, Dr. Dingley's proposal that the claimant meets several listings does not coincide with his treatment data (Exhibit 15F). To wit, he suggests the claimant meets listings 12.04 as well as 12.06 (anxiety disorders) and 12.08 (personality disorders), yet his treatment notes contain no diagnoses of the two latter impairments (Exhibit 11F). He also proposes the claimant experiences marked functional limitations, citing said parameters extant since January 2013, when the clamant required hospitalization with suicidal ideation. Dr. Dingley summarized that because of this in-pat[i]ent stay, "[S]he has met severity requirements for medical dispositions indicated [12.04, 12.06 and 12.08] from December 2012" (Exhibit 15F/6). The undersigned finds this is merely a summary statement offered without quantifiable or corroborating medical evidence, and it contrasts sharply with his treatment records citing the claimant's "even keel" and stable mental status as noted above (Exhibit 11F).

Record at 23-24.[3]

The plaintiff challenges the administrative law judge's first stated reason for his assessment of Dr. Dingley's opinion, that the opinion is dated July 2014 when the last interaction between the plaintiff and Dr. Dingley took place in October 2013, id. at 23, by asserting that this reason

ignores the evidence that Plaintiff received ongoing therapeutic counseling from Sheila Hoyt, LCSW, at Franklin Behavioral Health, the same medical facility at which Dr. Dingley practiced and ...

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