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Kladde v. Astrue

March 26, 2009

KRISTA KLADDE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stephen J. Hillman United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court for review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Sections 216(i) and 223 of the Social Security Act. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented that the case may be handled by the undersigned. The action arises under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which authorizes the Court to enter judgment upon the pleadings and transcript of the record before the Commissioner. The plaintiff and the defendant have filed their pleadings, the defendant has filed the certified transcript of record, and the parties have filed a joint stipulation. After reviewing the matter, the Court concludes that the decision of the Commissioner should be affirmed.

On August 28, 2002, plaintiff Krista Kladde filed an application for a period of disability or Disability Insurance Benefits, alleging an inability to work since August 21, 2001 due to a bipolar disorder. (Administrative Record ["AR"] 84-86, 101-10). On May 5, 2003, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), who found that plaintiff could perform work at any exertional level with mental limitations ("limited to routine, repetitive, entry level, minimally stressful work, requiring no contact with the general office population and only superficial interpersonal contact"), determined that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 27-33).

On March 29, 2004, following plaintiff's request for a review of the hearing decision (AR 68), the Appeals Council remanded the case to the ALJ with the following instructions: to obtain treatment records from Dr. Wheeler-Caller (plaintiff's treating psychologist) supporting her opinion that it is unlikely plaintiff's condition will ever allow her to return to work; to obtain a consultative mental status examination including psychological testing in order to clarify the nature and severity of plaintiff's mental impairments, and to address all lay statements (including the lay statement from plaintiff's friend) regarding plaintiff's activities, symptoms and emotional distress. (AR 70-71).

On June 3, 2005 (on remand), the ALJ, who found that plaintiff could perform work at any exertional level with mental limitations ("limited to routine, entry level, minimally stressful work requiring no contact with the general public and only superficial interpersonal contact"), determined that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 11-19).

Following the Appeals Council's denial of plaintiff's request for a review of the hearing decision (AR 4-7), plaintiff filed an action in this Court. On July 31, 2006, pursuant to a Stipulation to Voluntarily Remand the matter to the ALJ for a new hearing, for compliance with the Appeals Council's prior order to obtain pychological testing, and for supporting rationale for the weight assigned to the medical evidence, the Court remanded the matter. (AR 469-73) The Appeals Council subsequently remanded the case to the ALJ. (AR 465-68).

On September 19, 2007 (on remand), another ALJ, who found that plaintiff could perform medium work with no exertional limitations but with certain non-exertional limitations ("precluded from work at unprotected heights and work with continuous interaction with the public"), determined that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 438-50).

Plaintiff makes two challenges to the ALJ's 2007 Decision denying benefits (hereinafter referred to as the "2007 Decision"). Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred (1) in failing to properly consider all relevant medical evidence, including opinion evidence from plaintiff's treating psychologist and psychiatrist; and (2) in failing to properly consider plaintiff's subjective complaints and the statements of third parties, and to properly assess the credibility of plaintiff and third parties.

Each of plaintiff's contentions will be addressed in turn.

ISSUE NO. 1:

Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to comply with the Appeals Council's prior orders and the parties' Stipulation for Voluntary Remand to consider the relevant medical opinion evidence and to provide an explanation for the weight assigned to such opinion evidence. Plaintiff further asserts that the ALJ failed to provide significant or legitimate reasons for rejecting the opinion evidence of plaintiff's treating physicians.

In response, defendant argues that the ALJ properly considered the opinion of evidence of plaintiff's treating physicians in compliance with the Appeal's Council's prior orders and the parties' Stipulation for Voluntary Remand. Defendant further argues that the ALJ provided specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting the opinion evidence of plaintiff's treating physicians.

The Administrative Record reveals the following. Prior to and at the initial administrative hearing (October 10, 2003, see AR 395) and the second administrative hearing (April 15, 2005), plaintiff alleged she suffered from bipolar disorder and had problems concentrating, focusing and remembering, mood swings, depression, mania, insomnia, chronic fatigue, headaches, confusion, suicidal tendencies, alcoholism and drug abuse. (AR 38-39, 102, 129-36, 145-48, 396-406, 413-24).

Plaintiff points out the various records from plaintiff's treating psychiatrist and psychologist which supported ...


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