Williams v. Social Security Administration

Filing 17

ORDER affirming the Commissioner's decision and dismissing the 2 Complaint with prejudice. Signed by Magistrate Judge Beth Deere on 4/1/2015. (ks)

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS JONESBORO DIVISION DAWN WILLIAMS V. PLAINTIFF NO. 3:14CV106-BD CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT ORDER The Court heard oral arguments in this social security appeal on March 26, 2015. Following a review of the record and arguments presented by counsel, the Court announced its findings of fact and conclusions of law from the bench, affirming the Commissioner’s decision. Based on the record as a whole, there was sufficient evidence in the record to support the Commissioner’s decision as to the limiting effect of the symptoms of Ms. Williams’s mental impairments and, thus, as to her residual functional capacity. The Administrative Law Judge’s conclusion that Ms. Williams retained the capacity to perform a reduced range of sedentary work is supported by sufficient evidence. The ALJ did not err in concluding that Ms. Williams’s stress and ability to concentrate, persist, and maintain an acceptable pace were adequate to allow her to perform a reduced range of sedentary work. Thus, there was no error in the hypothetical question that the ALJ posed to the vocational expert. An excerpted transcript of the Court’s specific findings and conclusions is attached. The Complaint is hereby dismissed, with prejudice, this 1st day of April, 2015. ___________________________________ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE Case 3:14-cv-00106-BD Document 16 Filed 03/31/15 Page 1 of 9 1 1 2 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS JONESBORO DIVISION 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 DAWN WILLIAMS, . . PLAINTIFF, . . VS. . . SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION . . COMMISSIONER, . . DEFENDANT. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Docket No. 3:14-CV-00106-BD Little Rock, Arkansas March 26, 2015 9:59 A.M. 10 11 12 TRANSCRIPT OF 13 EXCERPTED ORAL FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW 14 IN ORAL ARGUMENT HEARING 15 BEFORE THE HONORABLE BETH DEERE 16 UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 17 18 19 ELECTRONIC COURT RECORDER-OPERATOR: Ms. Suzy Flippen 20 21 22 Transcription Service: Robin Warbritton Post Office Box 262 Vilonia, AR 72173 (501) 796-6560 23 24 PROCEEDINGS RECORDED BY ELECTRONIC SOUND RECORDING. 25 TRANSCRIPT PRODUCED BY TRANSCRIPTION SERVICE. Case 3:14-cv-00106-BD Document 16 Filed 03/31/15 Page 2 of 9 2 1 APPEARANCES: 2 For the Plaintiff: Mr. Greg Wallace Bartels Law Firm Post Office Box 1640 Jonesboro, AR 72403-1640 For the Defendant: Mr. Stuart G. Lipke Social Security Administration Office of the General Counsel 1301 Young Street Suite A702 Dallas, TX 75202-5433 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 Case 3:14-cv-00106-BD Document 16 Filed 03/31/15 Page 3 of 9 3 P R O C E E D I N G S 1 2 (Call to order of the Court.) * * * 3 THE COURT: 4 5 All right. Anything else you would like to add? This is an interesting case, but I feel like I've got 6 7 enough information to rule on the case from the bench. And as 8 the -- the latest procedure we're using is, is that we will 9 have the findings and conclusions transcribed. Once we 10 receive those back, I will file an order, attach that as an 11 exhibit, and enter the judgment at that time. 12 going to take anywhere -- hopefully, it will be complete in 13 two weeks. And that's That's what I'm told. So, if there is nothing further, I'm ready to rule. 14 15 I'll never know more about the case than I know right this 16 minute. 17 I appreciate the arguments of counsel. You all both 18 always do a superb job and enlighten me and correct my 19 misapprehensions. 20 All right. This is the case of Dawn M. Williams v. 21 Carolyn Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security 22 Administration. 23 Its case number is 3:14-CV-106. The parties have consented to my jurisdiction. I 24 have reviewed not only the parties' briefs and the ALJ's 25 decision, I have reviewed the record as well, those portions Case 3:14-cv-00106-BD Document 16 Filed 03/31/15 Page 4 of 9 4 1 of the record that the parties have directed my attention to, 2 at least those portions. 3 than that, including the transcript of the hearing before the 4 ALJ. And I have, in fact, reviewed more Procedurally, the case is ready for decision. 5 6 Williams filed for disability insurance benefits and 7 Supplemental Security Income on October 19th. 8 Dawn onset date is October 30, 2011. Her amended A hearing was held before an ALJ on April 23rd of 9 10 2013. The Plaintiff, Ms. Williams, was in attendance, along 11 with her attorney and a vocational expert. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on May 17th, 12 13 2013. 14 March 28th, 2014, almost a year later. 15 2014, Ms. Williams filed this appeal. 16 The appeals counsel denied a request for review on And on April 17th, Dawn Williams was 42 years old at the time of the 17 hearing and the ALJ's decision. 18 and two years of college. 19 impairments, including sleep apnea, Hepatitis C, restless leg 20 syndrome, diabetes, morbid obesity with the ensuing effects of 21 fatigue, joint and back pain, and hypertension. 22 the physical impairments the ALJ found to be severe. 23 24 25 She had completed high school The ALJ found a number of severe Those were He also found severe mental impairments, including bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety. There is no issue as to the impairments. There is no Case 3:14-cv-00106-BD Document 16 Filed 03/31/15 Page 5 of 9 5 1 issue challenging the ALJ's decision that she did not meet a 2 listed impairment. The ALJ's Residual Functional Capacity, that is what 3 4 she could still do in spite of these impairments, is a point 5 of dispute. 6 Williams' alleged symptoms, although acknowledged that she -- 7 she could expect to suffer these symptoms to some extent. 8 found that -- or the ALJ found she could do the full range of 9 sedentary work, except he added other limitations. The ALJ discounted, in part, the severity of Ms. He He added 10 walking limits, postural/positional limits. 11 Hep C, obviously, she could not work around open food 12 containers. 13 work. 14 could understand, remember, and follow concrete instructions 15 and that she would have superficial contact with public and 16 coworkers. 17 to account for her mental impairments. 18 she could not return to her previous work as a security guard. 19 But after hearing testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ 20 found that there were other jobs that exist -- existed in 21 significant numbers in the economy; for example, assembler and 22 touch-up screener. 23 Because of the And he limited her to semi-skilled or unskilled And that involved work that would involve -- that she And this -- these last limitations were intended She -- the ALJ found The issue today is rather narrow. The Plaintiffs 24 contest whether limiting Ms. Williams to semi-skilled or 25 unskilled work, with other limitations on her interpersonal Case 3:14-cv-00106-BD Document 16 Filed 03/31/15 Page 6 of 9 6 1 contact, and limiting her to concrete decisions, whether that 2 adequately accounted for her moderate limitation in 3 concentration, persistence, and pace. 4 whether the hypothetical to the vocational expert was flawed, 5 because the ALJ did not specifically include limits on -- to 6 the VE in the hypothetical to include limits on her ability to 7 concentrate and persist and keep up the pace. 8 9 10 11 Or stated another way, In addition, the Plaintiff also argues that there should have been a limit in the hypothetical to account for her stress. The Commissioner argues that the ALJ adequately 12 accounted for the Plaintiff's limitations in concentration, 13 persistence, and pace in the hypothetical to the VE, when he 14 limited the hypothetical person to simple semi-skilled work, 15 with work that she could understand, remember, and follow only 16 concrete instructions and would have only superficial contact 17 with public and coworkers. 18 The question for the Court, of course, is whether the 19 ALJ committed legal error and whether his decision is 20 supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 21 There may be substantial evidence to support a 22 different outcome, but I cannot reverse on that basis. 23 there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's 24 decision, then I'm obligated to affirm. 25 In this case, I find that there is substantial If Case 3:14-cv-00106-BD Document 16 Filed 03/31/15 Page 7 of 9 7 1 evidence to support the Commissioner's decision. Dennis 2 Vowell, who was a psychiatric -- or a psychological 3 consultant, I should say, is cited -- his report is cited by 4 both the Plaintiff and the Defendants in support of their 5 positions. 6 that report. And both, Plaintiff and Defendant, find support in But what Dr. Vowell said is that Ms. Williams had 7 8 mild to moderate impairments in her ability to respond 9 adequately to basic assessment of attention and concentration. 10 He said that her persistence appeared adequate throughout the 11 session. 12 acceptable time frame was adequate. 13 had mild to moderate stress and that she would have difficulty 14 coping in response to -- to a stressful situation. 15 her capacity to cope with typical mental cognitive demands of 16 work. Her capacity to perform within a basically But he also said that she He said 17 So, both -- both parties, as I said, find support in 18 his report, which I believe is at page -- I've got it, at 444 19 -- actually, it begins on page 440, I believe. 20 In addition, Brad Williams Ph.D., a state agency 21 physician, also opined that Ms. Williams had moderate limits 22 in concentration, persistence, and pace, and recommended 23 limiting her to work where interpersonal contact would be 24 incidental. 25 That provides part of the substantial evidence that Case 3:14-cv-00106-BD Document 16 Filed 03/31/15 Page 8 of 9 8 1 supports the Commissioner's decision. In addition to that, we 2 have Ms. Williams' activities of daily living, which include a 3 number of activities that are cited by both Dr. Vowell and Dr. 4 Williams. 5 indicating that she -- that Ms. Williams is -- prepares her 6 own meals, she doesn't need any special reminders to attend to 7 her personal grooming. 8 her from 45 minutes to an hour. 9 Drives a car. We have a report from her mother in the record, When she cooks, she cooks -- it takes She does light housekeeping. She goes out alone. She drives. 10 stores. 11 can count change, handles her savings account, uses a 12 checkbook, and that her ability to handle money has not 13 changed since the onset of her condition. 14 television daily. 15 phone, and although she notes that she can't socialize as much 16 as she used to. 17 She shops two hours a week. She shops in She pays her own bills, She reads, watches She visits people in person and on the So, her activities of daily living, as reported by 18 not only her mother, but -- but by her own account, also 19 supports the finding. 20 Now, the legal question is whether the hypothetical 21 should have specifically included the finding by the -- the 22 ALJ that Ms. Williams had moderate limitations in 23 concentration, persistence, and pace. 24 position is that the specifics that are considered, and then 25 the psychiatric review technique form, are not necessarily The Commissioner's Case 3:14-cv-00106-BD Document 16 Filed 03/31/15 Page 9 of 9 9 1 required to be included in the RFC assessment. And while the 2 Plaintiff has made a cogent argument to the contrary, I find 3 that the Commissioner's view is -- is the better view, in that 4 it's -- it's the only practical view. 5 supported by the regulations themselves. And I think that it's So, for all those reasons, I find that there is no 6 7 legal error and that there is substantial evidence to support 8 the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits to Ms. Williams. Anything further, Professor Wallace? 9 10 MR. WALLACE: 11 THE COURT: Mr. Lipke? 12 MR. LIPKE: No, Judge. 13 THE COURT: All right. 14 you. 15 today. 16 No, Your Honor. It's been a pleasure having And I thank you for your preparation and your attendance We're off the record. (Adjournment at 10:35 a.m.) 17 ELECTRONIC SOUND RECORDING CERTIFICATION: 18 I, court approved transcriber, certify that the foregoing is a 19 correct transcript from the official electronic sound 20 recording of the proceedings in the above-entitled matter. 21 22 /s/Robin Warbritton Signature of Approved Transcriber 23 24 25 Robin Warbritton Typed or Printed Name March 31, 2015 Date

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