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Arlonda Boatwright v. Michael Astrue

February 15, 2012

ARLONDA BOATWRIGHT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barbara A. McAuliffe United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER ON PARTIES CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Arlonda Boatwright ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of an administrative decision denying her claim for disability benefits under the Social Security Act, Title XVI (the "Act"). Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and the cross-motion for summary judgment of defendant Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). Plaintiff filed her complaint on October 8, 2010. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff filed her summary judgment motion on May 12, 2011. ( Doc. 14.) The Commissioner filed his summary judgment cross-motion and opposition on June 13, 2011. (Doc. 15.) Plaintiff filed her Reply Brief on June 27, 2011. (Doc. 16.) This matter was reassigned to the undersigned judge on October 17, 2011 (Doc. 17.) The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted without oral argument to United States Magistrate Judge Barbara A. McAuliffe.*fn1

II. BACKGROUND

A. Overview of Administrative Proceedings

On June 29, 2006, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (Administrative Record ("AR") at 109, 135.) Plaintiff alleges she is unable to work due to illiteracy, a learning disability, mental problems and depression (AR at 119, 135).

Plaintiff's application was initially denied and denied again on reconsideration. (AR at 69, 75.) Plaintiff's application was subsequently denied by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") in a decision issued on August 29, 2008. (AR at 20-26.) The Appeals Council denied review on June 18, 2010. (AR at 13-16.) Plaintiff filed this action for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 1383. (Doc. 1.)

B. Plaintiff's Testimony At the Administrative Hearing

Plaintiff was born on July 25, 1984. (AR at 31.) The highest level of education completed by Plaintiff was tenth grade special education classes. (AR at 31.) Plaintiff testified to being incapable of any math and having very limited reading capabilities. (AR at 32.) At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff had a daughter who was three years old. (AR at 32.) Plaintiff spends "all day" taking care of her daughter, which consists of cooking, cleaning and other "normal things." (AR at 39.)

Plaintiff has not worked since 2007. (AR at 33.) Plaintiff's most recent employment was at a McDonald's restaurant -- a position which entailed stocking and cleaning tables. (AR at 40.) Plaintiff testified she no longer worked at McDonald's because she was laid off. (AR at 40.) Sometime between 2004 and 2007, Plaintiff braided hair for money (AR 34-38.) Plaintiff performed this job at a shop open to the public as well as by going around to other peoples' houses. (AR at 46-47.) Plaintiff testified that she stopped braiding hair because she lost her clientele, however, if she had clients, she would still be capable of braiding hair. (AR at 37-38.) Plaintiff testified she generally can not work because "it's hard for [her] to get along with people." (AR at 39.)

Plaintiff was asked "why [she] can't work full-time at any job," such as "the simplest job in the world [--] just putting widgets in a box[,]" or "pick[ing] cotton or put[ting] potatoes in a box." (AR at 39.) Plaintiff responded that she struggled to do math in her head, however, she could "probably" perform the above-referenced menial jobs. (AR at 39-40.) When Plaintiff was asked why she had not tried to obtain one of those jobs, Plaintiff responded that she "can't read" or "fill out papers." (AR at 40.)

1. Testimony of Plaintiff's Friend, Claryce Taylor

Claryce Taylor ("Taylor") is Plaintiff's "best friend," lives "[a]round the corner" from Plaintiff and sees Plaintiff "every day." (AR at 41-42.) Taylor testified that every morning, she goes to Plaintiff's home and wakes Plaintiff up, and then helps Plaintiff clean her home and assists with Plaintiff's daughter. (AR at 42.)

Taylor testified that Plaintiff struggles to remember things and follow instructions. (AR at 42.) Taylor drives Plaintiff around to help her run errands, and goes grocery shopping on Plaintiff's behalf. (AR at 42.) Taylor testified that Plaintiff "doesn't do anything herself" and that Taylor "do[es] it for her." (AR at 44.)

Taylor was asked if she believed Plaintiff could work full-time at any job. (AR at 45.) Taylor testified to her belief that Plaintiff could not work a full-time job, specifically, "eight hours a day," because Plaintiff did not get along with others. (AR at 45.) However, Taylor also testified to her belief that Plaintiff could "[p]robably [work] like a few hours [a day,] or something like that." (AR at 45.) Taylor was asked if the reason Plaintiff could not work a full-time job was due to Plaintiff's memory and concentration problems, to which Taylor responded "[n]o. It's not . . ." (AR at 45-46.) Taylor did not provide an explanation for her belief Plaintiff could not work a full-time job. (AR at 41-47.)

D. Medical Evidence

The medical evidence within the Administrative Record consists of three consultative examinations undertaken by Plaintiff for purposes of three separate SSI applications. Plaintiff was examined by Michael Musacco, Ph.D., in September 2003 (AR 224-28), and again by Dr. Musacco in April 2005. (AR 175-78.) For Plaintiff's current SSI application, Plaintiff was examined by Greg Hirokawa, Ph.D., in September 2006. (AR 200-205.) Dr. Hirokawa's findings and opinions were reviewed by the state agency psychiatrist M.C. Vea, M.D. (AR at 214-219.)

1. Michael G. Musacco, Ph.D., September 11, 2003 Examination

On September 11, 2003, examining psychologist Dr. Musacco examined Plaintiff in connection to a previous application for SSI in 2003. (AR at 224.) Dr. Musacco offered a diagnosis of dysthymic disorder "to account for [Plaintiff's] self-report . . . of sadness, irritability, anger, and guilt," and borderline intellectual functioning. (AR at 227.)

During this examination, Dr. Musacco recorded Plaintiff's major complaints and took Plaintiff's history. (AR at 224-25.) Plaintiff described her daily activities as consisting of watching television, taking walks or sitting in the park. (AR at 225.) Plaintiff stated she was able to complete activities of daily living such as washing dishes, cleaning her bedroom, laundry tasks and cooking. (AR at 25.) Plaintiff's transportation needs were met by either taking the bus or relying on family members. (AR at 225.)

At this time, Plaintiff's I.Q. scores were measured as Verbal I.Q. of 71, Performance I.Q. of 70 and a Full Scale I.Q. of 68. (AR at 226.) Accordingly, Plaintiff's Full Scale I.Q. score fell in the Upper Mild to Low Borderline range. (AR at 227.) Dr. Musacco, however, noted that Plaintiff did not demonstrate significant deficits in her adaptive functioning in a manner consistent with a finding of Mild Mental Retardation. (AR at 227.) Specifically, Plaintiff's social skills, grooming, hygiene and overall presentation was suggestive of borderline intelligence. (AR at 226.) Dr. Musacco thus opined that Plaintiff's symptoms were more commensurate with a diagnosis of borderline intellectual functioning. (AR at 227.)

Dr. Musacco described Plaintiff's ability to complete employment involving repetitive and non-demanding work as follows:

The claimant is able to understand, carry out, and remember simple instructions. It is my opinion that the claimant is capable of responding appropriately to co-workers, supervisors, and the public. I also believe that the claimant is capable of responding to usual work situations or dealing with changes in a routine work setting. However, the claimant does not have a history of competitive employment and does not possess work skills. Furthermore, the claimant is unable to effectively read or write, and her irritability and mood problems impact her social functioning to some degree. Nevertheless with appropriate support, it is recommended that the claimant is capable of completing employment which involves repetitive and nondemanding work tasks.

2. Michael G. Musacco, Ph.D., April 13, 2005 Examination

Dr. Musacco reexamined Plaintiff on a second SSI claim on April 13, 2005. (AR at 175-78.) During this examination, Dr. Musacco recorded Plaintiff's major complaints and took Plaintiff's history. Plaintiff summarized her daily activities as watching television and talking on the phone. (AR at 176.) Plaintiff represented that she was able to shop for groceries, cook, clean and do laundry chores independently. (AR at 176.)

On this date, Plaintiff's I.Q. scores were measured as a Verbal I.Q. of 60, Performance I.Q. of 67 and a Full Scale I.Q. of 59. (AR at 177.) Based on the complete results of the examination, Dr. Musacco offered the diagnosis of Depressive Disorder and Provisional Mental Retardation. (AR at 178.) In explaining his diagnosis of Mild Mental Retardation on a provisional basis only, Dr. Musacco stated that while Plaintiff's

"Full I.Q. score falls solidly in the Mildly Impaired range and her memory skills were also significantly depressed . . . claimant's adaptive functioning is not obviously impaired to a significant degree. The claimant indicated that she is independent in her activities of daily living and this data is not consistent with a diagnosis of Mild ...


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