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Beasley v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

January 29, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant



         This matter is before the Court on United States Magistrate Judge John K. Larkins III's Final Report and Recommendation [16] (“R&R”). The R&R recommends that the Court affirm the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff Clara Elizabeth Beasley's (“Plaintiff”) application for supplemental security income. Also before the Court is Plaintiff's Objections to the R&R [18].

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         On December 18, 2012, Plaintiff filed her application for supplemental security income alleging disability beginning May 15, 2000. (Social Security Tr. [8] (“Tr.”) 268). The Commissioner's final decision on that application was to deny benefits. (Tr. 133-144). Plaintiff had a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on January 14, 2015. (Tr. 150-82). On February 18, 2015, the ALJ issued its finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 133-44). Plaintiff requested review of the hearing decision, and on June 24, 2016, the Appeals Council denied the request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 5-8). Plaintiff then filed this civil action seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits.

         On October 24, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued the R&R, recommending that the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed. ([16]). The Magistrate Judge found that substantial evidence supports the ALJ articulation of “good cause” for discounting the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician, Angel Luis Perez, MD (“Dr. Perez”).

         On November 7, 2017, Plaintiff filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's R&R. ([18]).

         B. Facts

         Plaintiff was 30 years old at the onset of her alleged disability and 44 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 144, 341). She has held jobs at a wood plant, grocery store, and fast-food restaurant. (Tr. 295). Plaintiff graduated from high school, taking special education classes. (Tr. 171, 426, 649).

         On February 23, 2013, Plaintiff, accompanied by her roommate's sister, Lynette Bailey (“Bailey”), was evaluated by consultative psychologist Cheryl A. Gratton, Ph.D at the request of the Social Security Administration. (Tr. 426-30, 427-28). Dr. Gratton extensively summarized the interviews in her report. Dr. Gratton conducted a mental status examination, which revealed that Plaintiff's articulation was poor, and her speech was characterized by a heavy regional dialect. (Tr. 428). There were no obvious behavioral anomalies apart from malingering in the testing portion of the evaluation. Her intelligence appeared to be slightly, but not significantly, below average during conversational speech. (Id.). Her speech was “fluent, prosodic, and free from paraphasic errors.” (Tr. 429). Dr. Gratton noted that Plaintiff described a history of auditory hallucinations that was “poorly substantiated.” Dr. Gratton described Plaintiff's thought processes as “logical and coherent” and her “rate of mentation” was normal. Dr. Gratton noted that Plaintiff was unable to comprehend abstraction, she was not oriented as to time, place, or personal information, her aspects of memory functioning appeared impaired, and her speed at task performance was deficient. But Dr. Gratton also observed that the severity of those limitations was dubious because Plaintiff put forth only minimal effort during the examination. (Id.).

         On WAIS-IV testing, Plaintiff obtained a full-scale IQ of 52. (Tr. 429). Dr. Gratton noted that Plaintiff did not appear to be motivated to do well on the assessment and appeared to put forth only minimal or inconsistent effort; thus, the results likely slightly underestimate Plaintiff's overall functioning. (Id.). Dr. Gratton also noted that a test for malingering clearly indicated that she was malingering. (Tr. 430).

         Dr. Gratton diagnosed Plaintiff with malingering and assigned her a GAF score of 65.[1] (Tr. 430). Dr. Gratton summarized her findings as follows:

[Plaintiff's] IQ is in the Defective range, but frank and flagrant malingering during testing indicates that this is an under-estimate of her actual level of functioning. The psychometrist actually asked Ms. Beasley aloud if anyone had coached her to perform poorly because her malingering was so apparent. She denied this, but it is certainly plausible that [Bailey] or her roommate may have coached her to do poorly. Based on the results of this assessment, she finds it generally easy to comprehend and carry out simple instructions. She is not likely to be challenged by difficulties getting along with others. Her attention is sufficient for the execution of her day-to-day activities. She would not be likely to decompensate under stressful conditions. Her attention is such that timely completion of tasks and assignments would not prove difficult. She is capable of self-management of disability fund, if awarded, as best can be determined.

(Tr. 430).

         On March 25, 2013, Plaintiff underwent a consultative physical examination with Tiffany S. Lee, M.D., at the request of the Social Security Administration. (Tr. 432-34). Plaintiff reported several mental impairments to Dr. Lee, including difficulty with short and long-term memory, mood swings, hearing voices, and depressive feelings and mood. (Tr. 432). Dr. Lee indicated that Plaintiff was alert and oriented, did not appear depressed or anxious, her mood and affect were appropriate, her grooming was appropriate, and there was no evidence of memory problems. (Tr. 434).

         On September 23, 2014, Plaintiff underwent a psychosocial assessment with Dr. Perez. (Tr. 633, 650-656). During the evaluation, Plaintiff reported that she had been on medications before and felt that they were not working well, but she could not recall which mediations she was taking. (Tr. 651). She reported “extensive traumatic [history] when she was young” but did not wish to speak of it. She stated that she would have nightmares and flashbacks three to four times per week. She also stated that when she was a teenager she began to experience hallucinations telling her to hurt herself and others but that she never acted on the commands. She reported that she had been feeling depressed since she was a teenager. She described her motivation and energy as low, ...

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