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Thompson v. Astrue

February 8, 2010

SHARON D. THOMPSON, 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 evaluated the opinions of the treating psychiatrist; (JS at 3.)

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 EVALUATING THE OPINION OF PLAINTIFF'S TREATING PSYCHIATRIST, OR HER MENTAL CONDITION

In his evaluation of Plaintiff's mental residual functional capacity ("Mental RFC"), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has severe impairments of panic attacks and depression. (AR 21.) With regard to her mental RFC, he found that Plaintiff is "moderately impaired in the ability to endure workplace pressure and interact appropriately with co-workers and supervisors - e.g., prone to occasional outbursts but able to perform the duties and simple, repetitive tasks but also complex functions as well." (AR 22.)

Plaintiff asserts error in the ALJ's determination that she has only a moderate impairment. (JS at 4, referencing AR 22, Finding 5.) Plaintiff maintains that the longitudinal treatment record supports more restrictive limitations. In particular, Plaintiff references certain longitudinal treatment notes (see JS at 5), and in particular, focuses on a "Mental Impairment Questionnaire" completed by treating psychiatrist Dr. Bong on April 5, 2007 ("Questionnaire," AR 677-680.) Plaintiff notes that Dr. Bong assessed that she would likely be absent from work, due to her mental impairments, more than three times a month. (AR 679.) Plaintiff also asserts that the ALJ could not rely upon any portion of the opinions of the consultative psychiatric examiner, Dr. Walsh, who performed an examination on February 6, 2004 at the request of the Department of Social Services Disability and Adult Programs (AR 299-301) and of the State Agency reviewing physician, who completed a Psychiatric Review Technique Form ("PRTF") on March 9, 2004 (AR 302-314), because, in his decision, the ALJ discounted the findings set forth in those reports. (AR 21.)

A. Applicable Law

In evaluating mental impairments, 20 C.F.R. §404.1520a(c)(3)(4) and §416.920a(c)(3)(4) mandate that consideration be given, among other things, to activities of daily living ("ADLs"), social functioning; concentration, persistence, or pace; and episodes of decompensation. These factors are generally analyzed in a Psychiatric Review Technique Form ("PRTF"). The PRTF is used at Step Three of the sequential evaluation to determine if a claimant is disabled under the Listing of Impairments; however, the same data must be considered at subsequent steps unless the mental impairment is found to be not severe at Step Two. See SSR 85-16.

20 C.F.R. §§404.1520a(c)(1) and 416.920a(c)(1) require consideration of "all relevant and available clinical signs and laboratory findings, the effects of your symptoms, and how your functioning may be affected by factors including, but not limited to, chronic mental disorders, structured settings, medication and other treatment."*fn1

SSR 85-16 suggests the following as relevant evidence:

"History, findings, and observations from medical sources (including psychological test results), regarding the presence, frequency, and intensity of hallucinations, delusions or paranoid tendencies; depression or elation; confusion or disorientation; conversion symptoms or phobias; psycho-physiological symptoms, withdrawn or bizarre behavior; anxiety or tension. Reports of the individual's activities of daily living and work activity, as well as testimony of third ...


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