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Stewart v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Kansas

October 22, 2014

JAMIE L. STEWART, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


ERIC F. MELGREN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Jamie L. Stewart seeks review of a final decision by Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income, under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), respectively. In her pleadings, Plaintiff alleges that the administrative law judge ("ALJ") erred by not recontacting one of Plaintiff's treating physicians and in assessing Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). Upon review, the Court finds that the Commissioner's decision was supported by substantial evidence contained in the record. As such, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff was born on July 2, 1982. She has a twelfth grade special education, during which she earned primarily passing grades. Plaintiff previously worked as a home health aide and a fast-food worker at Subway and McDonald's. Plaintiff worked at McDonald's on two different occasions-from September 1, 2005, to October 15, 2005, and from February 23, 2007, to March 31, 2008.

The record contains several reports from Plaintiff's former employers and vocational rehabilitation counselor regarding Plaintiff's past employment. Sheila Burke, Plaintiff's employer when she worked as a home health aide, reported that Plaintiff was easily distracted and did not complete tasks as directed. She also reported that Plaintiff needed extra supervision to perform her job adequately. Both of Plaintiff's McDonald's employers, however, reported that Plaintiff did not have difficulties performing her job. Plaintiff's vocational rehabilitation counselor, Kenny Foust, noted that Plaintiff's attempt to work fast-food failed despite management moving her to less demanding positions. He recalled that Plaintiff could not remember how to make Subway sandwiches even though she was given additional time and assistance. He stated that Plaintiff was able to work at McDonald's because she had an understanding and accommodating manager.

Dr. Michael Schwartz, a consultative psychologist, examined Plaintiff in November 2006. He administered the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale I ("Wechsler"), third edition, and the results revealed a verbal intelligence quotient ("IQ") of sixty-five, a performance IQ of seventy-three, and a full scale IQ of sixty-five, indicating a mildly mentally retarded range of intellectual functioning. Dr. Schwartz concluded that Plaintiff could remember work locations and procedures; understand and follow simple directions; and attend, concentrate, and remember adequately to perform simple tasks.

Dr. Thomas Coleman, a consultative licensed clinical psychologist, examined Plaintiff in November 2009. His examination revealed that Plaintiff had somewhat limited concentration and the demeanor and interaction of a young teenager, but also logical thoughts and the absence of articulation difficulty. Dr. Coleman concluded that Plaintiff was immature in judgment, intellectually limited, and vulnerable to misuse or manipulation, but she could follow simple instructions and carry out simple tasks in a sheltered environment with close supervision.

On December 31, 2009, Dr. Robert Blum, a state agency psychologist, reviewed the evidence in Plaintiff's file and issued a report assessing Plaintiff's mental capabilities. Dr. Blum determined that Plaintiff could understand and remember simple instructions; could attend to and complete intermediate tasks; and was capable of getting along with co-workers and supervisors. He also determined that Plaintiff was capable of competitive employment.

Dr. Marie Shields, a psychological provider associated with Pawnee Mental Health Services, examined Plaintiff in May 2010 and conducted abbreviated Wechsler testing. Her examination revealed a verbal IQ of fifty-seven, a performance IQ of sixty-nine, and a full-scale IQ in the moderate mental retardation range. Dr. Shields determined that a diagnosis of mild mental retardation was valid based on her diagnostic interview, formal testing, and Plaintiff's history. Dr. Shields concluded that, based on her testing, Plaintiff would not be able to live successfully on her own or provide for the needs of her infant child. She opined that Plaintiff's ability to obtain gainful employment was highly questionable.

Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on September 16, 2009, under a protective filing date of September 9, 2009. She was twenty-eight years old as of June 30, 2011, the date she was last insured for purposes of disability insurance benefits, and thirty years old as of July 20, 2012, the date of the Commissioner's final administrative decision for purposes of supplemental security income.

The state agency and the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's applications initially and upon reconsideration. Pursuant to Plaintiff's request, an ALJ conducted a hearing on October 20, 2010, at which Plaintiff and her counsel appeared, as well as a vocational expert. The ALJ issued a decision on November 24, 2010, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. The Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review of the decision and remanded the case to the ALJ on August 12, 2011.

The ALJ held a supplemental hearing on June 25, 2012. During the hearing, Plaintiff testified that she had special education services and that she could write and make change. She also testified that she previously worked at a McDonald's fast-food restaurant, cleaning and cooking, including operating a grill and fryer. According to Plaintiff, it only took her a couple of days to learn how to operate the grill because she was good with handling food and could cook. She stated that she received close supervision on the grill until she "got the hang of it" and that the job ended because of a conflict with her manager.[1] She further testified that she took care of her daughter by herself for about three hours a day but that her parents also supervised her care of her child and helped with dressing, feeding, and changing her child. Plaintiff stated that she goes out by herself to "hang out with friends, " and she can care for herself with difficulty.[2] She also testified that when she lived alone at age eighteen for a brief time, she stayed with friends and "partied a lot and ended up in jail."[3]

The ALJ issued her decision on July 20, 2012, finding that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairment of mild mental retardation. Despite this finding, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairment did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. More specifically, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff failed to meet either Listing 12.02 for organic brain disorders or Listing 12.05 for mental retardation. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, with the following nonexertional limitations: (1) work involving simple, routine, and repetitive tasks and (2) occasional interaction with the public and coworkers. The ALJ therefore concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a disability since January 1, 2006, through the date of her decision.

Given this unfavorable result, Plaintiff sought reconsideration of the ALJ's decision from the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on November 21, 2013. Plaintiff filed a complaint in the United States District Court, District of Kansas on January 20, 2014, seeking reversal of the ALJ's decision and the immediate award of benefits or, in the alternative, a remand to the Commissioner for further ...

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