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Elizabeth Hamilton v. Michael J. Astrue

December 2, 2011

ELIZABETH HAMILTON, 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 October 8, 2007 opinions of Dr. Linda Smith, M.D., the psychiatric consultative examiner. (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 PROPERLY CONSIDERED THE OPINION OF DR. SMITH, THE PSYCHIATRIC CONSULTATIVE EXAMINER

Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in not properly considering the opinions of psychiatric consultative examiner ("CE") Dr. Smith, who determined in part that Plaintiff has mild impairments in four areas related to mental functioning. (See AR at 210-211.)

The ALJ found that "the substance induced mood disorder is a very questionably severe mental impairment." (AR 10.) He concluded that in activities of daily living, Plaintiff has mild restrictions; social functioning, moderate difficulties; concentration, persistence or pace, mild difficulties; episodes of decompensation, none of extended duration. (AR 11.)

In making this mental health evaluation, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's own description of her mental health symptoms (AR 13-14) and also treatment and examination records concerning her mental health. (AR 17.) These include an October 8, 2007 psychological CE from Dr. Smith. (AR 202-211.)

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. ยงยง404.1520a(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 ...


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