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Sophia Loren Simpson v. Michael J. Astrue

May 17, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baylson, J.


Plaintiff, Sophia Loren Simpson, seeks judicial review of the decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner") denying her application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("SSDI") Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-83(c) (2000). Jurisdiction is established under § 1383(c)(3), which incorporates § 405(g) of the Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). After careful and independent consideration of the matter, and for the following reasons, the Court will affirm the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") and deny Simpson's request for benefits or a new hearing.

I. Background and Procedural History

Simpson applied for social security and disability benefits on August 18, 2006. (R. 21.) She was born on January 31, 1966, and was 37 years old on January 1, 2004, the onset date of her alleged impairment, defining her as a "younger individual" pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §404.1563. (R. 34.) Simpson alleges disability due to depression, obesity, diabetes mellitus, seizure disorder, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, and left knee disorder. (R. 23).

Simpson has completed high school and is able to communicate in the English language. (Id.) She currently resides with her niece, age 38 years, who works full-time during the day. (R. 40.) Simpson's prior work experience was as a Nurse Assistant (DOT 355.674-014), which is classified as a semi-skilled, medium occupation performed at the heavy level of exertion. (R. 34.) Because Simpson's physical and mental impairments limit her ability to meet this occupation's strength and reasoning requirements, the ALJ found that Simpson is unable to return to her past relevant work. (Id.)

A. Medical Evidence of Simpson's Mental Impairments

On March 1, 2007, Simpson underwent a psychological evaluation by Lori Hart, Ph.D, at Heart-to-Heart Counseling. (R. 357.) The findings of the report indicate that Simpson claims to suffer from symptoms associated with depression, which began when she "lost her job, financial resources, insurance and an apartment in 2005." (R. 358.) During the course of the evaluation, Simpson stated "I just shut down, I am crying all the time, I stay in my room and I eat. I gained 45 pounds in the past two years. I feel no reason to get out of bed. I'm up all night and sleep all day. I don't be bothered with nobody. I feel like it's never gonna change." (Id.) Additionally, Simpson stated that she was seeing a therapist, Sarah Kruger, at the Warren E. Smith Center and was prescribed Prozac, which she was not compliant with taking. (Id.) Dr. Hart diagnosed Simpson with Major Depressive Disorder, but observed that "Ms. Simpson is likely to be able to understand simple or detailed job instructions" and"interact appropriately with co-workers as well as the public." (R. 359.)

On April 3, 2007, Paul A. Perch, Ed.D, completed a Psychiatric Review Technique ("PRT") Report based on Listing 12.04 (Affective Disorders).*fn1 (R. 360.) The PRT indicated that Simpson has mild limitations in the area of activities of daily living and moderate limitations in the areas of maintaining social functioning and concentration, persistence, or pace. (R. 370.) The report indicted that Simpson has had no episodes of decompensation, nor has Simpson established other "C" criteria for Listing 12.04 (Affective Disorders). (R. 371.)

Dr. Perch also conducted a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment ("RFC").

(R. 373.) The RFC indicated that Simpson can "understand, retain and follow simple job instructions, i.e. perform one and two step tasks." (R. 375.) The RFC further indicated that Simpson possesses the ability to "get along with others in the workplace without distracting them" and "can sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision." (Id.) Finally, Dr. Perch indicated that Simpson "retains the abilities to manage the mental demands of many types of jobs not requiring complicated tasks." (Id.) Ultimately, the findings of the RFC indicated that Simpson is able to "meet the basic mental demands of competitive work on a sustained basis despite the limitations from her impairment." (Id.) Dr. Perch further found that Simpson's own statements during the course of the evaluation were only "partially credible." (R. 275.)

B. Social Security Hearing

The Social Security Administration denied Covington's application on April 4, 2007, and Covington timely filed a request for a hearing by an ALJ. (R. 21.) Following the hearing, the ALJ denied Simpson's claim in a written decision of May 30, 2008, holding that Simpson is not disabled under the Act. (R.11-25). At steps one and two, the ALJ found that Simpson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her onset date and that she had the following severe impairments: depression, deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, and left knee disorder.*fn2 R. 23.

At step three, the ALJ found that "[a]lthough the claimant's depression may meet some of the criteria of part 'A' of Listing 12.04 (Affective Disorders), neither the functional limitations required by part 'B' of the listings, nor the criteria required by part 'C' of the listings are met."

(R. 25.) In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ credited the psychiatric assessment completed by Dr. Perch as "generally supported by and consistent with the objective medical evidence." (R. 25.) However, the ALJ found the assessment to show Simpson's mental impairment not to be as severe as Simpson claimed and found, in contrast to Dr. Perch's assessment, that Simpson's social functioning limitations were "mild," not "moderate."*fn3 (R. 15.)

At step four, the ALJ found Simpson to have the residual functional capacity to perform a restricted range of sedentary work. Id. In addition to certain physical restrictions, the ALJ found Simpson's "mental residual functional capacity [to be] such that she is limited to simple routine tasks secondary to a moderate (limited, but still able to function satisfactorily) limitation in concentration, persistence, and pace." R. 31.

At step five, ALJ posed a hypothetical to the VE asking him to identify "some" sedentary, unskilled occupations that a hypothetical individual could perform who had Simpson's physical limitations and who was additionally "limited to performing just simple, routine tasks, secondary to a moderate, which is defined as limited but still able to function satisfactorily. The ...

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