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B. S. G. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

September 11, 2019

B. S. G., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

         Social Security Appeal

          ORDER

          MARC T. TREADWELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff B.S.G. seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Upon review of the record, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff B.S.G. filed for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income benefits (SSI) in May 2014, alleging disability beginning on June 1, 2011. (Admin. Tr., Doc. 11-5, pp. 1, 9). DIB eligibility requires a claimant to “demonstrate[] disability on or before the last date for which she [was] insured.” Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(A)). Plaintiff's date last insured is December 31, 2011. (Admin. Tr., Doc. 11-2, p. 14). Noting that none of Plaintiff's medical evidence predates 2014, the Commissioner found that Plaintiff “fail[ed] to establish the existence of any medically determinable impairment prior to the date last insured.” (Id., p. 15). Plaintiff does not challenge that finding by the Commissioner before this Court.

         Plaintiff claims to be disabled due to the following impairments: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); chronic lower back pain; borderline intellectual functioning; and depression, with associated symptoms such as irritability, diminished social functioning, and diminished concentration. (Pl.'s Br., Doc. 16, p. 4). Plaintiff's arguments to the Court focus on her asserted psychological impairments.

         After Plaintiff's disability applications were denied initially and on reconsideration at the state-agency level of review (Admin. Tr., Doc. 11-4, pp. 2, 5, 15, 19), Plaintiff requested a hearing and the opportunity for further review before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). At her hearing, Plaintiff testified that her back pain and depression arose from a traffic accident Plaintiff suffered “approximately 30 years ago” (Admin. Tr., Doc. 11-7, p. 47), while she was three months pregnant. (Admin. Tr., Doc. 11-2, p. 54). Plaintiff claims that her depression worsened in 2011 upon the death of her “partner[] for better than 16 years.” (Id., p. 57).

         In October 2017, the ALJ issued an opinion finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Id., pp. 11-28). The ALJ found that Plaintiff “retained most of her functionality despite her mental conditions.” (Id., p. 26). In support of this finding, the ALJ cited the opinion of Dr. Scott Duncan, a consultative psychological examiner who concluded that Plaintiff “would not be limited in her daily adaptive functioning because of mental health issues.” (Id., p. 23). See (Admin. Tr., Ex. 8F). The ALJ further found that treatment notes, primarily from Southside Medical Center, evidenced “significant improvement of the claimant's depressive symptoms.” (Admin. Tr., Doc. 11-2, p. 22). Plaintiff subsequently sought to appeal the ALJ's unfavorable decision, but in June 2018, the Appeals Council denied review in Plaintiff's case. (Id., p. 2).

         Plaintiff now seeks judicial review before this Court on the following two grounds. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by declining to credit different medical evidence from (a) Dr. Gary Kittrell, another consultative psychological examiner (Admin. Tr., Ex. 2F), and (b) Dr. John Cooper and Dr. David Massey, two state-agency medical reviewers. See (Admin. Tr., Doc. 11-3, pp. 10-12, pp. 39-41). Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by discounting Plaintiff's description of her own symptoms, as well as the corroborating report of Ms. Kathy Loyd, Plaintiff's friend and roommate. (Admin. Tr., Ex. 16E).

         As discussed below, ALJ adequately articulated her rationale both for discounting Plaintiff's description of her symptoms, and also for crediting some of the medical records over others. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's stated rationale, and therefore, Plaintiff's arguments provide no basis for altering the Commissioner's decision.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In social security appeals, the Court is tasked with determining “whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards.” Winschel v. Comm'r, 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations omitted). The Court “may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment” for that of the Commissioner. Id.

         While the Commissioner's legal conclusions are subject to de novo review, the Commissioner's factual findings “are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence.” Ingram v. Comm'r, 496 F.3d 1253, 1260 (11th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence, in turn, means “more than a scintilla” of evidence, or “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178. Accordingly, as to factual findings, the Court must affirm “[e]ven if the evidence preponderates against” the Commissioner's decision. Ingram, 496 F.3d at 1260.

         EVALUATION ...


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