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Wilson v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. California

May 9, 2017





         Plaintiff Anthony F. Wilson (“Wilson”) and the Commissioner of Social Security (“defendant” or “Commissioner”) cross-move for summary judgment, contesting whether the ALJ's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment failed to correctly reflect examining psychologist Dr. DeBattista's opinion. The question is whether an inconsistency exists between DeBattista's opinion that Wilson can perform “one to two-step instructions” and the ALJ's RFC assessment limiting Wilson to “simple, repetitive tasks” and, if so, whether that inconsistency was required to be addressed by the ALJ. Compare Administrative Record (“AR”) 465 with AR 16. I conclude that the ALJ failed to explain why he rejected DeBattista's one to two-step instructions. Therefore, I GRANT plaintiff's motion and remand this case for further proceedings.



         Wilson filed for disability in May 2012, claiming he was disabled due to having been shot in the head, and that he suffered from paranoia, seizures, anxiety, and memory loss starting in October 19, 2009. AR 59.[1]

         In February 2010 (pursuant to a prior application for disability benefits), Wilson's medical history was reviewed by non-examining state-agency psychologist Dr. Paul Klein. AR 333 - 346. Klein opined that Wilson had “adequate memory and understanding for simple 1-2 step tasks; adequate sustained concentration, persistence, and pace for simple 1-2 step tasks; adequate social interaction with supervisors, coworkers, and limited public contact; adequate adaptability to change in most routine work-like settings.” AR 346. Klein added that Wilson was capable of “new learning of simple 1-2 step tasks” but might need supervision while transitioning. AR 346.

         In February 2011, Wilson was seen by agency examining psychologist Dr. Jonathan Howard. Wilson took the Wechsler Memory Scale-III test and scored an Immediate Visual Memory of 49 and a Working Memory of 79, which is in the eighth percentile. AR 368. The Immediate Visual Memory score is “below the first tenth of the first percentile.” Pl.'s Mot. 5; AR 368 (“(<0.1%ile; 90% C.L.: 49-66)).” The Working Memory score is in the 8th percentile. Id. Howard's diagnostic impression was that Wilson had a cognitive disorder not otherwise specified and a mood disorder not otherwise specified with anxious features. AR 368. In addition, Howard opined that Wilson had marked impairments in understanding, remembering and carrying out both complex as well as short and simple instructions. AR 368.

         In March 2011, non-examining agency psychologist Dr. Robert Liss reviewed Wilson's records. AR 369-382. Liss determined Wilson was “able to complete simple tasks; able to maintain [concentration, persistence or pace] over a full work week; able to interact, with limited public contact; able to adapt to ordinary workplace stress and change.” AR 382.

         In October 2012, at the initial review level, agency mental health consultant Dr. Patricia Heldman concluded that there was evidence of a severe “affective disorder” but “insufficient evidence” in the record of any limitations in mental functioning. AR 62-64.

         In April 2013, Wilson was examined by agency psychologist Dr. Charles DeBattista. AR 460-466. On the psychiatric evaluation, DeBattista noted that Wilson had a “five forward digit span, ” meaning Wilson could remember three out of three objects immediately but was unable to recall any of the three objects after five minutes. AR 464. DeBattista also noted Wilson would “benefit from neuropsychologic testing to assess the extent of his memory difficulties.” AR 465. Based on his examination, De Battista opined that Wilson was able to “understand, remember, and carry out simple one or two-step job instructions.” AR 465. He, however, was “not able to do detailed and complex instructions.” Id.

         In May 2013, non-examining agency psychiatrist Dr. F. L. Williams reviewed the record for a “Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment.” AR 78-79. Williams determined that Wilson was not significantly limited in the ability to “carry out very short and simple instructions.” AR 78. However, Wilson was moderately limited in the ability to “carry out detailed instructions.” AR 78. Williams opined that Wilson did not have adaptation limitations but when asked to explain in “narrative form” the adaptation limitations, Williams wrote “SRT.”[2]AR 79.


         Wilson filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI application for Supplemental Security Income on May 9, 2012. AR 12. His claims were denied initially and on reconsideration on October 9, 2012 and May 21, 2013. AR 12.

         On March 19, 2014, Wilson testified at a hearing before an ALJ. AR 27-58. At the hearing, a Vocational Expert was asked what possible work Wilson could perform assuming a “capacity for work at all exertional levels, nonpublic, simple, repetitive tasks, no heights or hazards . . . [like] moving machinery, operating heavy equipment.” AR 46. The Vocational Expert testified that, although Wilson's previous jobs were precluded, there were other jobs Wilson could perform. AR 46-48. ...

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