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Tanya S. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

November 29, 2018

TANYA S., [1] Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Tanya S. (“Claimant”), pro se, requests judicial review of the final decision of the Deputy Commissioner for Operations of the Social Security Administration (the “Deputy Commissioner”), denying her applications for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act.[2] For the following reasons, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Deputy Commissioner.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         In April 2014, Claimant filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging a disability onset date of September 24, 2011. Her claims were initially denied on July 29, 2014, and again upon reconsideration on September 5, 2014. Claimant filed a written request for a hearing on October 21, 2014. On February 23, 2016 a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Kimberly Sorg-Graves (the “ALJ”). Claimant appeared at the hearing pro se with her father, who testified on her behalf. On August 26, 2016, the ALJ denied Claimant's applications for DIB and SSI. Claimant requested review of the decision by the Appeals Council, which affirmed the ALJ's denial of benefits on June 13, 2017. On July 26, 2017, Claimant filed this action for judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         B. Factual Background

         At the time of her alleged disability onset date in September 2011, Claimant was 35 years old. She was home-schooled from third through twelfth grade and received her GED. Prior to the onset of her disability, Claimant's last employment was providing social services to special needs adults, but she was terminated in late 2011. She alleges her disability began in September 2011.

         1. 2014 Termination

         Claimant suffers from depression and has been treated for bipolar disorder. She has great difficulty reading, and of the things she can read, she often has trouble understanding them. In late 2011, the stresses of her job became too much for her, and she was disruptive to a patient/ client at work. (Filing No. 12-7 at 37.) Police forcefully escorted Claimant to Midtown Mental Health Services, where a health professional evaluated her and prescribed her Depakote for bipolar disorder. Id. On follow-up she was feeling better, and the physician assistant who treated her continued her on Depakote. Id. at 36-37. However, she lost her job following the incident. (Filing No. 12-2 at 51-52.)

         2. Subsequent Medical Evaluations

         In May 2012, psychologist Patsy Donn (“Dr. Donn”) evaluated Claimant to determine her intelligence and ability to function. (Filing No. 12-7 at 50-59.) Claimant took three tests at this evaluation, the Stanford Binet Intelligence Scales - Fifth Edition, the Woodcock-Johnson III, Tests of Achievement, and the 16 PF Fifth Edition. Id. She obtained a full-scale IQ score of 78, which is in the borderline range. Id. at 52. Her knowledge score was in the third percentile, indicating that her accumulated fund of knowledge was weak. Id. She also had weak numerical problem solving and visual spacing processing, but average skills in inductive and deductive reasoning and working memory. Id. Her written expression score was low average (late third grade), while all other academic skills were borderline. Id. at 52-54. Her math fluency was what was expected of beginning fifth graders; her writing fluency was at the end of fourth grade level; and her reading fluency was at the beginning of fourth grade level. Id. at 53.

         Dr. Donn diagnosed Claimant with recurrent major depressive disorder and borderline intellectual functioning. Id. at 55. She suggested further psychiatric evaluation to determine the effectiveness of the medication Claimant was taking at that time, and thought that effective treatment for Claimant would involve therapy to address coping skills and other issues and possible accommodations in the work setting that could include written instructions being left on her voicemail, a co-worker who could read any important information for her, and other measures that would reduce her need to read. Id. Dr. Donn noted that Claimant wanted to be a beautician. Id. To become a beautician, Dr. Donn believed Claimant would need support in completing her training, which included effective treatment of depression. Id.

         In July 2014, Claimant was evaluated by consulting psychologist Paul Schneider (“Dr. Schneider”). (Filing No. 12-7 at 45-49.) Dr. Schneider reported Claimant's “calculations and fund of knowledge were poor”, but her concentration level was neither a relative strength nor weakness. Id. at 45-46. Her verbal comprehension and judgment were somewhat impaired. Id. at 46. She indicated that her mood was fine, and Dr. Schneider observed that it seemed normal and her thought processes were logical and sequential. Id. Dr. Schneider's impression was that Claimant had borderline intellectual functioning and was a slow learner, both of which would affect her ability to work. Id. at 45-46. He diagnosed her with adjustment disorder, with mixed anxiety and depressed mood, by history, and borderline intellectual functioning. Id. at 47.

         Dr. Schneider then administered the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale - IV (WAIS-IV). Id. at 48. This test scored Claimant's IQ at 70, placing her toward the extreme end of the borderline range but conforming to Dr. Schneider's observations of her. Id. at 47. He thought that although Claimant's score fell on the cusp of the borderline range and mild cognitive disability, the diagnosis of borderline intellectual functioning was more consistent with her level of adaptive functioning; thus, his diagnosis remained unchanged. Id. at 48.

         Also, in July 2014, Claimant was evaluated by state agency reviewing psychologist Stacia Hill, Ph.D. (“Dr. Hill”). (Filing No. 12-3 at 5.) Dr. Hill concluded Claimant was mildly limited in activities of daily living and social functioning and moderately limited in concentration, persistence, and pace. Id. at 5-6. She believed Claimant could understand, remember, and carry out simple tasks, relate on at least a superficial and ongoing basis with supervisors and co-workers, attend to tasks for a sufficient amount of time to complete them, and manage the stresses involved with simple work. Id. at 8. In September 2014, Joelle J. Larsen, Ph.D. affirmed Dr. Hill's report.

         3. Other ...

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