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Bryant v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

November 27, 2017

Marie Bryant, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Leslie A. Bowman, United States Magistrate Judge.

         The plaintiff filed this action for review of the final decision of the Commissioner for Social Security pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1, p. 1)

         The Magistrate Judge presides over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) having received the written consent of both parties. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 73; (Doc. 22)

         The court finds that the final decision of the Commissioner at step five of the disability analysis is supported by substantial evidence and free from legal error.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On October 17, 2012, Bryant filed for supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (Tr. 36, 180) She alleged disability beginning on September 1, 2005, due to intercranial hypertension, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, back pain, insomnia, and hip problems from childhood. (Tr. 93, 173)

         Her claims were denied initially (Tr. 93-96) and upon reconsideration (Tr. 98-101). Bryant requested review and appeared with counsel at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Peter J. Baum on August 3, 2015. (Tr. 34) In his decision, dated September 25, 2015, the ALJ found Bryant was not disabled. (Tr. 14-16) Bryant appealed, and on January 19, 2017, the Appeals Council denied review making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3) Bryant subsequently filed this action appealing that decision. (Doc. 1)

         Claimant's Work History and Medical History

         Bryant is five feet one inch tall. (Tr. 203) She weighs 180 pounds. (Tr. 203) She completed the eighth grade in 1991. (Tr. 204) She does not have a high school equivalency diploma. (Tr. 41)

         Bryant worked for approximately three years in demolition and construction. (Tr. 204) This work is classified as “very heavy unskilled.” (Tr. 27) She was laid off in September of 2009. (Tr. 204, 368, 400) One of the examining physicians reported that “she was struggling at work socially because she would get irritated frequently.” (Tr. 368)

         Mental Impairment

         In February of 2013, Bryant was examined by James Rau, Ph.D., for the disability determination service. Bryant described a history of “mood swings and depression.” (Tr. 368) She described chronic difficulty with reading, concentration, and memory. (Tr. 368) She scored 23 on the Mini Mental Status Exam, “which is well in the impaired range.” (Tr. 370) Rau diagnosed Bryant with mood disorder, not otherwise specified, anxiety disorder, not otherwise specified, and polysubstance dependence in sustained full remission. (Tr. 371) He opined she was moderately limited in the functional areas of Understanding and Memory, Sustained Concentration and Persistence, Social Interaction, and Adapting to Change. (Tr. 372-373)

         In February of 2013, Jaine Foster-Valdez, Ph.D., reviewed the medical record for the disability determination service and offered an opinion of Bryant's mental limitations. (Tr. 66) She reported diagnoses for affective disorder and anxiety-related disorder. (Tr. 65) She evaluated Bryant's “B” listing criteria, which gauge the severity of her mental impairment. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920a(c)(3). She found Bryant has “mild” restrictions of her daily activities; “mild” difficulties in maintaining social functioning; “mild” difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace; and no evidence of decompensation. (Tr. 65) Foster-Valdez further opined that the medical evidence did not establish the presence of the “C” criteria, which are an alternative gauge of the extent of her mental impairment. (Tr. 65) According to Foster-Valdez, the medical record contains sporadic reports of depression and anxiety. (Tr. 65) Treatment notes from October 2011 and May 2012 indicate that Bryant had been prescribed lorazepam and lamotrigine. (Tr. 65-66) On October 2012, Bryant complained of “a lot of stress due to 3 or 4 deaths and a newborn (not hers).” (Tr. 66) Foster-Valdez found Bryant's credibility to be “partial.” (Tr. 66) She discounted Rau's report as inconsistent with Bryant's medical records. Id. She found Bryant's psychological condition to be non-severe. (Tr. 66)

         In October of 2013, Hubert R. Estes, M.D., reviewed the medical record for the disability determination service and offered an opinion of Bryant's mental limitations. (Tr. 83) He agreed with Foster-Valdez that Bryant's mental impairment was non-severe. (Tr. 83)

         In October of 2013, Bryant was examined by Gwendolyn W. Johnson, Ph.D., for the Arizona Department of Economic Security. (Tr. 408) Bryant described a history of anxiety and depression. (Tr. 408) She reported poor sleep due to chronic pain. (Tr. 410) Johnson found that Bryant's “immediate, short-term memory and remote memory systems were grossly intact.” (Tr. 410) “Her concentration was tested through basic calculations and her performance was good.” (Tr. 410) “Bryant scored 28/30 on the Mini Mental State Examination.” (Tr. 410) Johnson diagnosed mood disorder, not otherwise specified, and poly-substance dependence, by history. (Tr. 410) Johnson found no evidence of limitation in the functional areas of Understanding and Memory, Sustained Concentration and Persistence, Social Interaction, and Adaptation. (Tr. 411)

         Physical Impairment

         In February of 2013, Lloyd Anderson, M.D., reviewed the medical records for the disability determination service and offered an opinion of Bryant's physical limitations. (Tr. 67-69) Anderson opined that Bryant could lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. (Tr. 67) She could sit, stand, and/or walk for 6 hours in an 8-hour day. (Tr. 67) She should only occasionally climb ramps or stairs. (Tr. 68) She should never climb ladders, rope, or scaffolds. (Tr. 68) She could occasionally balance, kneel, crouch, or crawl. (Tr. 68) She could frequently stoop. (Tr. 68) Anderson's opinion suggests that Bryant can perform light work with some exceptions. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b).

         In October of 2013, L.A. Woodard, D.O., reviewed the medical record for the disability determination service and considered the severity of Bryant's physical impairments. (Tr. 85-87) Woodard agreed with the functional limitations given by Anderson. Id.

         In September of 2013, Bryant was examined by Jeri B. Hassman, M.D., for the disability determination services. (Tr. 400) Bryant explained that she performed heavy work in demolition and construction until she was laid off in September of 2009. (Tr. 40) Hassman noted that “[h]er main problem is back pain.” Id. “She complains of aching, stabbing, pins and needles pain from her neck down to her sacrum.” Id. Hassman opined that Bryant could lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. (Tr. 404) She could sit, stand, and/or walk for 6-8 hours in an 8-hour day. (Tr. 404-05) She should only occasionally climb ramps, stairs, ladders, rope, or scaffolds. (Tr. 405) She should only occasionally kneel, crouch, or crawl (Tr. 405) She could frequently stoop. (Tr. 405)

         In an undated Work Release form, physician's assistant Nicole James opined that Bryant could never climb ladders, scaffolds, or ropes. (Tr. 616) She could operate moving machinery between 2 and 6 hours per day. Id. She could stand, walk, or sit for less than 2 hours per day. Id. She could lift and carry 20 pounds for less than 2 hours per day. (Tr. 617) She will need to shift at ...


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