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Jones v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 10, 2015



TERRENCE F. McVERRY, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Shenetta Jones ("Plaintiff") brought this action for judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), which denied her application for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 1381-1383(f). Now pending before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 8, 10), which have been fully briefed (ECF Nos. 9, 12) and are ripe for disposition. Plaintiff also filed a Statement of Material Facts (ECF No. 11). For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion will be DENIED, and the Commissioner's motion will be GRANTED.

II. Background

Plaintiff was born on November 10, 1976.[1] (R. 39). She left high school in the eleventh grade and does not have a GED. (R. 27). She can communicate "clearly and concisely" in English (R. 301). She is not married and has five children from two different fathers. (R. 298). Her children are not currently living with her. Id. She has no past relevant work experience (R. 29), however she has previously been employed for short periods of time as a machinist, caregiver, assembly line worker and waitress. (R. 190). She has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of November 30, 2011. (R. 29). Because this appeal relates to Plaintiff's intellectual disability and deficits in adaptive functioning, only those pertinent facts will be reviewed and discussed in this opinion.

A. Medical Evidence

Plaintiff underwent psychological evaluations to assess her IQ and educational needs while attending elementary school in Erie, Pennsylvania. The first evaluation, conducted on June 12, 1984 by a school psychologist when Plaintiff was in first grade, resulted in a Verbal IQ of 67, Performance IQ of 92, and Full Scale IQ of 78. (R. 265). A second evaluation, conducted on February 12, 1987 when Plaintiff was in third grade, resulted in a Verbal IQ of 67, Performance IQ of 90 and Full Scale IQ of 76. (R. 264). The psychologist noted that the Plaintiff's "[i]ntellectual potential fell within the borderline range." Id.

On April 16, 1992 when Plaintiff was in eighth grade, she underwent a two-year re-evaluation review to determine her eligibility for continued special education needs. (R. 262). The school psychologist relied upon the IQ scores obtained during the February 1987 assessment and diagnosed Plaintiff with a primary learning disability. Id. It was also noted that Plaintiff was reading on a fifth grade level and had math abilities equivalent to the seventh grade. Id. Plaintiff was most successful when she had close supervision of her written work. Id.

On October 29, 1993, the school district issued a comprehensive evaluation report. (R. 257). The report again noted the IQ scores from the February 1987 evaluation and determined that Plaintiff was functioning below average. Id. The report also noted that Plaintiff had poor peer relations and numerous referrals for behavioral issues. Id. She remained eligible to continue special education services on a part-time basis. (R. 258).

On April 18, 2011, Glenn Bailey, PH.D. ("Dr. Bailey") performed a mental status and intellectual evaluation upon request of the Social Security Administration. (R. 297). Plaintiff arrived early for her appointment and it was noted that her grooming and hygiene were appropriate. Id. Plaintiff stated that she had a good childhood and was never abused or traumatized as she was growing up. Id. She was "kicked out" of high school in the eleventh grade after a fight. (R. 298). Plaintiff stated to Dr. Bailey that she was not currently working "[b]ecause of my back. I have scoliosis." Id. However, she did work at a concession stand during the summer of 2010. Id. Dr. Bailey administered the Folstein Mini Mental Status Examination and Plaintiff scored 29 out of 30. (R. 300). She had difficulty doing the serial sevens. However, she was able to spell the word "world" backwards without any problems. Id. It was also noted that there were no problems with the productivity of her thinking patterns and her thoughts were goal-oriented and relevant. Id.

Dr. Bailey also conducted a WAIS-III IQ test. (R. 303). Plaintiff achieved a Verbal IQ of 70, Performance IQ of 77 and a Full Scale IQ of 71 placing her within the "borderline, almost mentally retarded range." Id. Upon further evaluation of the subtests, Dr. Bailey noted that the Plaintiff scored poorest in comprehension, indicating that she had difficulty understanding basic interactions. Id. She also scored poorly in vocabulary. Id. However, Dr. Bailey determined that there was not a need for outpatient mental health recommendations at the time of the evaluation. (R. 304).

Accompanying the mental status and intellectual evaluation was a check box form in which Dr. Bailey checked that the Plaintiff had no limitation in understanding and remembering short, simple instructions. (R. 307). He also noted that she had no issues with understanding and remembering detailed instructions. Id. However, Dr. Bailey noted that she would have slight problems with carrying out detailed instructions and slight deficits in her ability to make judgments on simple work-related decisions. (R. 307). Although her test scores reflected that she had difficulty understanding basic social interactions, Dr. Bailey noted that she had no issue in interacting appropriately with the public, supervisors and co-workers. Id. However, he also noted that she had slight problems with responding to work pressures in a usual work setting and changes in a routine work setting. Id.

On December 27, 2012, the ALJ conducted a hearing at which Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified. Plaintiff's attorney stated that she suffers from scoliosis and that her main issue is the pain associated with scoliosis. (R. 38). Plaintiff also testified to the pain she endures and her limitations of walking and standing. (R. 41-43). When asked if she is currently receiving any kind of professional mental health treatment, Plaintiff testified that she was not. (R. 45). She further testified that she did not have any kind of mental health problem that would require treatment. Id. When asked if she were able to care for her own personal needs (i.e. bathing and dressing), Plaintiff testified that she was able to care for herself though it may take her awhile. Id.

The ALJ carefully followed the applicable five-step sequential evaluation process. He found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 30, 2011 and that she had severe impairments including chronic back pain, scoliosis, and borderline intellectual functioning. (R. 20). Although Plaintiff claimed that she was disabled due to her chronic back pain and scoliosis, the ALJ also considered her mental impairment under the requirements of listing 12.05. (R. 21). The ALJ explained that Plaintiff's mental impairments did not rise to a Listed Impairment and then separately engaged in a more-detailed analysis of how the mental impairments affected Plaintiff's residual functional capacity. (R. 24-29). The ALJ conceded that Plaintiff's borderline intellectual function technically meets the definition of a "severe" impairment. However, the ALJ also noted that Plaintiff did not allege the condition as a basis for her disability; had not asserted any limitations associated with her mental condition; and had not sought treatment or assistance for the mental condition. (R. 28). Thus, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is not disabled and is capable of successfully adjusting to unskilled work that exists in significant numbers. (R. 29-30).

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff previously filed an application for SSI that was denied on April 20, 2010. (R. 18). An additional review of that decision was not requested. Plaintiff thereafter filed another application on December 2, 2010, which was denied on July 21, 2011. Id. Again, no request was made for further review of that decision.

At issue here, Plaintiff protectively filed a third application for SSI on November 30, 2011, having alleged disability as of January 1, 2001, due to chronic back pain, scoliosis and anemia. (R. 24). After Plaintiff's claims were denied at the administrative level, she requested a hearing, which was conducted via video on December 27, 2012. The Plaintiff appeared in Erie, Pennsylvania, and Administrative Law Judge James J. Pileggi ("ALJ") presided over the hearing from Mars, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified at the hearing, as did an impartial vocational expert. (R. 34-50).

On January 24, 2013, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (R. 19). The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on January 24, 2013, when the Appeals Council ...

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