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Reed v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

September 30, 2014

RITA D. REED, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

WILLIAM L. OSTEEN, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff, Rita D. Reed, brought this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. § 405(g)), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security, denying Plaintiff's claims for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The court has before it the certified administrative record and Defendant has filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on June 7, 2010, alleging a disability beginning on June 1, 2007. After her claim was denied initially (Tr. at 72) and upon reconsideration (Tr. at 89), Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which took place on April 16, 2012 (Tr. at 105). In a decision dated June 27, 2012, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application. (Tr. at 17-27.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder; anxiety with panic attacks; OCD; and depression. (Tr. at 19.) The ALJ also found that her impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet or equal a Listing impairment. (Id.)

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels with following nonexertional limitations: simple, routine repetitive tasks; no contact with the public; occasional contact with coworkers and supervisors for completion of job tasks; and non-production jobs entailing only routine changes. (Tr. at 20-21.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had no past relevant work but that considering her age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy which she was capable of performing, including: cleaner, silver wrapper, and supply worker. (Tr. at 25-26.) Thus, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. at 26.) After unsuccessfully seeking review by the Appeals Council (Tr. at 1), Plaintiff filed the present action on August 29, 2013.

II. ANALYSIS

The Commissioner uses a five-step process to evaluate disability claims. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). Under this process, the Commissioner asks, in sequence, whether the claimant: (1) worked during the alleged period of disability; (2) had a severe impairment; (3) had an impairment that met or equaled the requirements of a listed impairment; (4) could return to her past relevant work; and (5) if not, could perform any other work in the national economy. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).

Plaintiff's arguments focus on the second and third step of the sequential analysis. In regards to Step 2, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly concluded that Plaintiff's intellectual disability was not a severe impairment. (Pl.'s Br. Supporting Mot. to Reverse the Decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Pl.'s Br.") (Doc. 13) at 4.) In regards to Step 3, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in failing to consider whether Plaintiff's impairments met the requirements under Listing 12.05C (intellectual disability). ( Id. at 3-6.)

A. Step 2: Severe Impairment

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly concluded that Plaintiff's intellectual disability was not a severe impairment. As the ALJ listed Plaintiff's severe impairments in Step 2 of the sequential analysis, the ALJ included bipolar disorder, anxiety with panic attacks, OCD, and depression. (Tr. at 19.) The ALJ did not list "intellectual disability" as a severe impairment.

In determining whether the claimant has a severe impairment, an ALJ considers whether the claimant has an "impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c). This requirement only requires a de minimis showing of severity. Felton-Miller v. Astrue , 459 F.App'x 226, 230 (4th Cir. 2011). However, when an alleged severe impairment is based on a single I.Q. test, an ALJ has the "discretion to assess the validity of an I.Q. test result and is not required to accept it even if it is the only such result in the record." Hancock v. Astrue , 667 F.3d 470, 473 (4th Cir. 2012).

In a 2010 consultative psychological evaluation conducted by Dr. Jan D. Lhotsky, Plaintiff received a verbal comprehension I.Q. score of 70 and a full performance I.Q. score of 69. (Tr. at 246.) In her opinion, the ALJ rejected Plaintiff's assertion that the I.Q. scores met the 12.05C Listing. (Tr. at 20.) The ALJ asserted, and it is undisputed, that the current I.Q. score was not supported with school testing prior to age 22 or independent testing to determine if the score was the product of Plaintiff's best efforts. (Id.) As explained by the ALJ, Plaintiff's statements to Dr. Lhotsky that she could read and write "pretty well, " and the evidence of Plaintiff's adaptive functioning were inconsistent with this I.Q. score. (Tr. at 20, 25.)[1] As recognized in Hancock, the ALJ relied upon a comparison to Plaintiff's functioning, at least in part, in discrediting the I.Q. scores. Hancock , 667 F.3d at 476. This evidence supports the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff's alleged intellectual disability did not constitute a severe impairment. See Clark v. Apfel , 141 F.3d 1253, 1256 (8th Cir. 1998).

Accordingly, this court concludes that the evidence considered by the ALJ provides sufficient support for the ALJ's rejection of the I.Q. scores, and as a result, the ALJ did not err by excluding "intellectual ...


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