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Thigpen v. Astrue

September 8, 2010



Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. For the reasons discussed below, the court grants plaintiff's motion, denies defendant's motion, and remands the case for further proceedings.


Plaintiff applied for SSI on February 24, 2006, alleging disability beginning April 1, 2001. Administrative Record ("AR") 12. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and plaintiff requested an administrative hearing. Id. On December 12, 2007, a hearing was held before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Laura Speck Havens. AR 21. Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing. AR 12.

The ALJ issued a decision on June 6, 2008, finding that plaintiff was not disabled.*fn1 AR 12-21. The ALJ made the following specific findings:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 24, 2006, the application date (20 CFR 416.920(b) and 416.971 et seq.).

2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: back impairment, arthritis of the bilateral hands and possible carpal tunnel syndrome of the right hand and depression (20 CFR 416.920(c))....

A psychiatric evaluation on November 14, 2007 stated diagnoses of schizoaffective disorder, post traumatic stress disorder and borderline intellectual functioning, rule out borderline personality disorder. Mental status testing showed a depressed mood with constricted affect. The claimant's though[t] process, however, was logical and goal oriented and there were no loose associations or mood swings and no emotional lability. She did report auditory hallucinations after dark. The claimant was alert and oriented with impaired memory, intact abstractions and below average intelligence. Her memory was impaired, insight was fair and judgment was poor. (9F/1-11).

A second psychiatric evaluation on April 14, 2008 stated diagnoses of depression, not otherwise specified, rule out history of marijuana use, rule out history of alcohol abuse, medical factors affecting the psychological state, rule out borderline personality traits and rule out borderline intellectual functioning. The consultative examiner stated that the claimant was experiencing some depressive symptoms largely in reaction to changes in health. She displayed decreased stress tolerance, emotionality and frustration as well as some change in initiative, energy and concentration. She did not display memory impairment and denied hallucinations (10F).

3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).

No treating or examining physician has mentioned findings equivalent in severity to the criteria of any listed impairment. The claimant's mental impairment does not meet or medically equal the criteria of listing 12.04....

In activities of daily living, the claimant has mild restriction. In social functioning, the claimant has moderate difficulties. With regard to concentration, persistence, or pace, the claimant has moderate difficulties. As for episodes of decompensation, the claimant has experienced no episodes of decompensation....

4. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except she should bend or stoop only occasionally. The claimant retains the ability to understand, remember and carry out simple job instructions. She has a fair ability to respond appropriately to supervisors, co-workers and the public and a fair ability to respond appropriately to usual work stress....

As for the opinion evidence, the undersigned gives substantial weight to the assessments of the consultative examiners and State Agency medical consultants to the effect that the claimant can perform simple, repetitive tasks at the light exertion level with occasional postural limitations (2F, 3F, 6F, 10F). These assessments are wholly consistent with the weight of the evidence of record and rendered by physicians who are experts in the evaluation of the medical issues in disability claims under the Social Security Act. The undersigned does, however, discount the need to take a break from sitting every thirty minutes as detailed in the December 29, 2005 evaluation (2F). The medical evidence of record does not support the need for this limitation and it is apparently based on the claimant's subjective allegations which the undersigned finds less than credible. There is also little support for the conclusion that the claimant be limited to occasional climbing, balancing, kneeling, crouching or crawling (6F/3).

The undersigned gives little weight to the November 14, 2007 assessment of Les Kalman, M.D., to the effect that [claimant] has marked limitations in the ability to respond appropriately to supervisors (9F/10). It is emphasized that the claimant underwent the examination that formed the basis of the opinion in question not in an attempt to seek treatment for symptoms, but rather, through attorney referral and in connection with an attempt to generate evidence for the current appeal. Further, the doctor was presumably paid for the report. Although such evidence is certainly legitimate and deserves due consideration, the context in which it was produced cannot ...

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