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Wilson v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Northern Division

September 2, 2016

LYNDA WILSON PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         Plaintiff Lynda Wilson has appealed the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her claims for supplemental security income. Both parties have submitted appeal briefs, and the case is ready for decision.[1]

         The Court's function on review is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and free of legal error. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009); Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997); see also 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Reynolds v. Chater, 82 F.3d 254, 257 (8th Cir. 1996). In assessing the substantiality of the evidence, the Court has considered evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision as well as evidence that supports it.

         Background

         Ms. Wilson alleged she became limited in her ability to work due to bipolar disorder, osteoarthritis, a heart murmur, migraines, hepatitis C, and a growth on her kidney. (SSA record at 538) After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) concluded that Ms. Wilson had not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act at any time from January 17, 2013, the date the application was filed, through October 20, 2014, the date of his decision. (Id. at 400) On November 17, 2015, the Appeals Council denied the request for a review of the ALJ's decision, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 1-5) Ms. Wilson then filed her complaint initiating this appeal. (Docket #2)

         Ms. Wilson was forty-seven years old at the time of the hearing and lived with her boyfriend and boyfriend's adult daughter. (Id. at 413-14) She had her General Education Development certificate. (Id. at 414) Ms. Wilson had not worked since 2005. (SSA record at 415)

         The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ found that Ms. Wilson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date and that her mild osteoarthritis of the bilateral knees, mild obesity, migraine headaches, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and a renal mass on her right kidney and small cyst on her left kidney were “severe” impairments. (Id. at 393) She did not, however, have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled a Listing. (Id. at 395-96) He judged that Ms. Wilson's allegations regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not entirely credible. (Id. at 396-98)

         Based on his findings, the ALJ concluded that, during the relevant time period, Ms. Wilson retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) for light work, except she should not work around temperature extremes or heavy fumes and, due to her lack of work history and General Education Development, was limited to “unskilled, rote activities.” (Id. at 396) After hearing testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that Ms. Wilson could perform work as a hotel housekeeper and fast food worker. (Id. at 400) Thus, the ALJ concluded, Ms. Wilson was not disabled. (Id. at 400)

         Ms. Wilson's Allegations

         Ms. Wilson claims the ALJ committed error by finding that her bipolar disorder was not a severe impairment. She also claims that the ALJ's finding that she could perform light, unskilled work where she was not exposed to temperature extremes or heavy fumes is not supported by the evidence. (#11 at 26-30)

         Reasons for Remand

         The regulations define a “severe” impairment as one that significantly limits a claimant's ability to perform basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §416.920(c). At step two of the five-step analysis, the ALJ assessed whether Ms. Wilson's alleged impairments were severe. He concluded that her mild osteoarthritis of the bilateral knees, mild obesity, migraine headaches, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and a renal mass on her right kidney and small cyst on her left kidney were “severe” impairments, but that her bipolar disorder was not. (SSA record at 393-95) In support of his conclusion, he stated that he gave “great weight” to the opinion of Ken Coon, M.D., who performed a consultative examination of Ms. Wilson for the Commissioner. (Id. at 394) But the ALJ's conclusion contradicts Dr. Coon's opinion.

         Dr. Coon described Ms. Wilson's affect and mood as normal. (Id. at 729) He said she was cooperative, but restrained and laid-back. She reported having violent thoughts toward her boyfriend's “ex” and said that she had suicidal ideation without concrete planning. (Id. at 730) Her attention and focus were adequate, but she presented a limited memory and recall of details. (Id.)

         He concluded that Ms. Wilson had experienced at least one major depressive episode and one manic episode; experienced depression and anxiety daily; had panic attacks when around crowds of people; and did not like to be around people other than close family. (Id. at 731) Dr. Coon diagnosed bipolar disorder and assessed a GAF score of 50-60. He found that Ms. Wilson was not limited in day-to-day adaptive functioning. He found she had the capacity to communicate and interact in a socially adequate manner and could communicate and interact effectively with one or two familiar people. (Id. at 732) But, Dr. Coon went on to find that Ms. Wilson was limited in her capacity to cope with the typical mental/cognitive demands of basic work-like tasks because she had trouble following instructions, dealing with authority, and was subject ...


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