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Parker v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division

March 13, 2018

HEIDI M. PARKER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Robert S. Ballou United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Heidi M. Parker (“Parker”), proceeding pro se, challenges the final decision of the Commissioner of Social security (“Commissioner”) determining that she was not disabled and therefore not eligible for supplemental security income (“SSI”) and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act (“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f, Parker asserts that her mental limitations prevent her from holding a job and that the ALJ should rely on the testing performed by Licensed Professional Counselor Lin Shaner and not rely on the other medical opinions in the case.[1] Dkt. Nos. 14, 18, 19 & 20. I conclude that substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision in all respects. Accordingly, I GRANT the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. No. 16.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This court limits its review to a determination of whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's conclusion that Parker failed to demonstrate that she was disabled under the Act.[2] Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; it consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (internal citations and alterations omitted). The final decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed where substantial evidence supports the decision. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990).

         CLAIM HISTORY

         This is Parker's second application for DIB benefits and fourth application for SSI benefits. R. 12. Parker unsuccessfully filed for SSI benefits in 1983, 2003, and 2004. Id. She filed her first application for DIB benefits on October 9, 2009, claiming that her disability began on September 1, 2009. R. 45. ALJ Thomas R. King entered a decision on June 10, 2011, denying Parker's application for benefits and finding that Parker suffered from the severe impairments of anxiety disorder and affective disorder, but was capable of performing light work with simple, unskilled tasks and no exposure to working with the public. R. 51. ALJ King determined that Parker was unable to perform her past relevant work of pet store cleaner, fast food worker and cook, but that she could perform jobs that exist in the national economy such as cleaner and packer. R. 55.

         Parker filed her current claims for DIB and SSI in October 2012, again claiming that her disability began on September 1, 2009.[3] R. 151-167. The Commissioner denied the applications at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 61-68, 79-88. On April 16, 2015, ALJ Brian P. Kilbane held a hearing to consider Parker's disability claim. R. 28-41. Parker participated in the hearing pro se. Id.

         On May 28, 2015, ALJ Kilbane entered his decision analyzing Parker's claim under the familiar five-step process[4] and denying her claim for benefits. R. 12-21. The ALJ found that Parker suffered from medically determinable impairments of depression and hypercholesterolemia, but that those impairments were not severe. R. 15-20. The ALJ determined that Parker had no severe impairments and thus had not been under a disability as defined by the Act from September 1, 2009 through May 28, 2015. R. 20. On August 31, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Parker's request for review (R. 1-3), and this appeal followed.

         ANALYSIS

         On appeal, Parker, acting pro se, filed letters alleging that her depression, and bipolar and schizophrenic behavior prevent her from holding a job, and that the ALJ should rely upon the consultative opinion of LPC Lin Shaner dated December 3, 2009. Dkt. Nos. 14, 19, 20. I liberally construe her brief to argue that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, and that the ALJ erred by giving little weight to LPC Shaner's opinion. For the reasons that follow, I conclude that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusion that Parker's impairments are not severe and that the ALJ properly considered LPC Shaner's opinion.

         Severe Impairments

         Parker has a history of schizoaffective disorder and paranoid and depressive personality traits. In Parker's previous application for benefits, covering September 2009 through June 2011, ALJ King found that Parker suffered from the severe impairments of anxiety disorder and affective disorder. R. 47. ALJ King reviewed Parker's medical and mental health treatment and testimony as to her daily functioning and noted that she received little medical treatment, had not been treated by a mental health specialist and that Celexa was beneficial for her mood swings and stress. R. 53. ALJ King noted that Parker did not have a mental disorder that needs frequent monitoring and suggested a referral to the Department of Rehabilitative Services for a socialization program and job placement. Id. ALJ King found that Parker's limitations were not totally debilitating because she shops, performs some household chores, spends time on the computer and has a website and drives. Id.

         On December 3, 2009, LPC Shaner examined Parker and completed a psychological evaluation. LPC Shaner determined that Parker has low average cognitive ability and low average academic skills but that “her emotional functioning is such that she will have a great deal of difficulty maintaining employment.” R. 241. LPC Shaner found that Parker had a paranoid mindset, but that there are “pieces missing, ” and “ [i]n order to truly understand her situation, previous records or information from family members would be necessary to fill in the gaps.” R. 242. LPC Shaner recommended counseling and medication management, and again noted that “there are so many pieces missing that it's difficult to accurately pinpoint the problem.” LPC Shaner concluded, “it seems safe to say that Mrs. Parker cannot work at this time and will be unable to work unless the paranoia can be ameliorated to some degree.” Id.

         ALJ King considered LPC Shaner's opinion and gave it no weight because it conflicted with Parker's treatment records and her daily activities. R. 54. ALJ King also considered a psychological consultative evaluation by David S. Leen, Ph.D., completed in March 2010. R. 49. Dr. Leen concluded that Parker suffered from anxiety disorder with post-traumatic stress disorder features, dysthymic disorder and phonological disorder. Id. He recommended psychiatric treatment to address Parker's anxiety and depressive symptoms. Dr. Leen concluded that Parker is unable to perform complex or challenging work activities with or without supervision, but can consistently perform relatively simple and repetitive work activities in a timely and appropriate manner, maintain reliable attendance in the workplace, accept instructions from ...


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