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Price v. Astrue

February 3, 2010

APRIL PRICE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: VICTOR B. Kenton United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER (Social Security Case)

This matter is before the Court for review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's application for disability benefits. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(c), the parties have consented that the case may be handled by the Magistrate Judge. 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 parties have filed the Joint Stipulation ("JS"), and the Commissioner has filed the certified Administrative Record ("AR").

Plaintiff raises the following issues:

1. Whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") properly considered the treating physician's opinion;

2. Whether the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff's obesity;

3. Whether the ALJ properly considered the lay witness statement;

4. Whether the ALJ properly developed the record; and

5. Whether the ALJ properly represented the record.

This Memorandum Opinion will constitute the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law. After reviewing the matter, the Court concludes that the decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed.

I. THE ALJ DID NOT ERR IN HIS PSYCHIATRIC EVALUATION OF PLAINTIFF

Plaintiff asserts, in her first issue, that the ALJ improperly ignored an adult psychiatric evaluation by her doctor, T. Nguyen, who reported that her mood and affect was apprehensive and labile, that her thought process was circumstantial, and that her insight and judgment were poor. Further, he diagnosed her with personality disorder, panic disorder, and assessed a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score of 45. (JS at 3, et seq., AR 214-215.)

The ALJ assessed that Plaintiff has a severe impairment of mood disorder. (AR 10.) In calculating her residual functional capacity ("RFC"), the ALJ found that she has non-exertional limitations as to understanding, remembering and carrying out detailed instructions, and in the ability to ask simple questions or request assistance. (AR 11.)

The ALJ considered significant and varied psychiatric evidence in making his determination as to Plaintiff's severe impairment and her mental RFC. He relied upon and extensively discussed the psychiatric consultative examination ("CE") performed by Linda Smith on February 22, 2007 at the request of the Department of Social Security Disability and Adult Programs. (AR 12, 170-177.) During that examination, Plaintiff complained that she was bipolar; however, her mental status examination showed that she was neatly and casually groomed; she made fair eye contact and fair interpersonal contact; she had no psychomotor agitation or retardation; she was coherent and organized; there was no tangentially or loosening of association; there was no bizarre or psychotic thought content; her mood was reported to be depressed and sometimes anxious; her affect was full and animated; her speech was normal; she was alert and oriented in all spheres; her memory and concentration were within normal limits; her insight and judgment appeared to be fair. Dr. Smith rendered a diagnostic impression of mood disorder, NOS; mixed personality traits, and a GAF of 75. (Id.) Dr. Smith concluded that Plaintiff was not impaired in her ability to work if she gave fair effort.

The ALJ also relied upon the opinions of two State Agency physicians, Drs. Paxton and Hurwitz. (AR 13, 148-161, 179-182.) Dr. Paxton reviewed Plaintiff's medical record on June 29, 2006 and limited her to non-public, simple repetitive work with no adaptive limitations. (AR 161.) On March 16, 2007, Dr. Hurwitz also reviewed Plaintiff's entire record, including Dr. Smith's opinion, and treatment notes from Dr. Nguyen. (AR 180-181.) Dr. Hurwitz affirmed Dr. Paxton's evaluation. (AR 182.) State Agency physicians' opinions constitute substantial evidence if ...


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