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Cornett v. Berryhill

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

March 25, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant


          Pamela Meade Sargent, United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Background and Standard of Review

         Plaintiff, Aaron Boone Cornett, (“Cornett”), filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, (“Commissioner”), determining that he was not eligible for supplemental security income, (“SSI”), under the Social Security Act, as amended, (“Act”), 42 U.S.C.A. § 1381 et seq. (West 2012 & 2018 Supp.). Jurisdiction of this court is pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). This case is before the undersigned magistrate judge upon transfer by consent of the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). Neither party has requested oral argument; therefore, this case is ripe for decision.

         The court's review in this case is limited to determining if the factual findings of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence and were reached through application of the correct legal standards. See Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). Substantial evidence has been defined as “evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a particular conclusion. It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than preponderance.” Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966). ‘“If there is evidence to justify a refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is “substantial evidence.'” Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting Laws, 368 F.2d at 642).

         The record shows that Cornett protectively filed an application for SSI on June 28, 2013, alleging disability as of June 28, 2013, based on an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, (“ADHD”); auditory processing disorder; obsessive compulsive disorder, (“OCD”); anxiety disorder; a learning disability; panic attacks; and speech impairment. (Record, (“R.”), at 198-201, 209, 213, 230-31.) The claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. at 114-16, 119-20, 125-27, 129-31.) Cornett then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge, (“ALJ”). (R. at 132.) A hearing was held on July 13, 2016, at which Cornett was represented by counsel. (R. at 53-89.)

         By decision dated September 1, 2016, the ALJ denied Cornett's claim. (R. at 38-48.) The ALJ found that Cornett had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 28, 2013, the alleged onset date of disability. (R. at 40.) The ALJ determined that Cornett had severe impairments, namely borderline intellectual functioning; autism; ADHD; a learning disability; anxiety; depression; and OCD, but she found that Cornett did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404 Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. at 40-41.) The ALJ found that Cornett had the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels. (R. at 44.) The ALJ also found that Cornett could perform only simple, routine and repetitive tasks that required only occasional interaction with co-workers and supervisors in an environment free from team work and over-the-shoulder supervision; that did not require interaction with the general public or fast-paced production requirements; and that required him to make no more than few, if any, work-related decisions. (R. at 44.) The ALJ found that Cornett had no past relevant work. (R. at 46.) Based on Cornett's age, education, work history and residual functional capacity and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that a significant number of jobs existed in the national economy that Cornett could perform, including the jobs of a dining room attendant/bus person, a vehicle cleaner, janitorial cleaning occupations, all at the medium[1] exertional level; as well as cleaning occupations, a vehicle cleaner and a photocopy machine operator, all at the light[2] exertional level; and a document preparer at the sedentary[3] level of exertion. (R. at 47-48.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Cornett was not under a disability as defined by the Act, and was not eligible for SSI benefits. (R. at 48.) See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g) (2018).

         After the ALJ issued her decision, Cornett pursued his administrative appeals, (R. at 195), but the Appeals Council denied his request for a review. (R. at 1-6.) Cornett then filed this action seeking review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision, which now stands as the Commissioner's final decision. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481(2018). This case is before this court on Cornett's motion for summary judgment filed February 15, 2018, and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment filed April 19, 2018.

         II. Facts

         Cornett was born in 1994, (R. at 47, 198), which classifies him as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c). Cornett has a high school education. (R. at 47, 58-59, 214.) He stated that he was enrolled in special education classes. (R. at 59.) Cornett stated that he had a difficult time remembering what he read. (R. at 59.) He stated the he could perform basic math, such as adding and subtracting. (R. at 60.) Cornett stated that he took welding classes in vocational school, but he did not obtain his certification. (R. at 67, 75, 214.) Cornett stated that he played video games, went fishing, drove four-wheelers and performed occasional light household chores, which included dusting and vacuuming, as well as helping his father mow grass. (R. at 60, 71, 224.) He stated that being around people caused him to have panic attacks. (R. at 65.) Cornett stated that he took medication for anxiety, which helped “a little bit.” (R. at 65.)

         Cornett's mother, Donna Cornett, (“D. Cornett”), also testified at Cornett's hearing (R. at 72-82.) D. Cornett stated that Cornett was enrolled in special education classes and received speech therapy. (R. at 72-73.) D. Cornett stated that Cornett could not process multi-step instructions. (R. at 78-79.) She stated that Cornett had most difficulty with reading; however, he struggled with all subjects. (R. at 73.) D. Cornett stated that she would not allow Cornett to obtain his driver's license because he was too impulsive and would “kill himself or somebody else.” (R. at 75-76.) She stated that any change in Cornett's surroundings would trigger panic attacks. (R. at 79-80.)

         Cecilia Thomas, a vocational expert, also testified at Cornett's hearing. (R. at 83-88.) Thomas was asked to consider a hypothetical individual of Cornett's age, education and work history, who could perform work at all levels of exertion; who could understand, remember and carry out simple, routine, repetitive tasks and respond appropriately to occasional interaction with co-workers and supervisors in an environment free from team work and over-the-shoulder supervision; that did not require interaction with the general public or performance of fast-paced production; and that did not require him to make more than a few, if any, work-related decisions. (R. at 83-84.) Thomas stated that the individual could perform medium, light and sedentary jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy, including those in food service areas, cleaning of vehicles and equipment, janitorial cleaning, photocopy machine operation and document preparation. (R. at 84-86.) Thomas stated that there would be no jobs available should the individual be precluded from all social interaction. (R. at 86-87.)

         In rendering her decision, the ALJ also reviewed records from Tazewell County Public Schools; Juli Harper, Ed.S., a school psychologist; Bradley T. Kinder, M.S., a licensed professional counselor; Dr. Eric Shrader, M.D.; David T. Ellis, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist; Louis Perrott, Ph.D., a state agency psychologist; and Dr. Sreeja Kadakkal, M.D., a state agency physician. Cornett's attorney also submitted medical records from Ellis, Dr. Shrader and Pamela S. Tessnear, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, to the Appeals Council.[4]

         On February 17 and 22, 2012, Juli Harper, Ed.S., a school psychologist, evaluated Cornett to determine if he continued to qualify for special education services. (R. at 296-99.) Cornett was 17 years old and was in the tenth grade. (R. at. 296.) The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale - Fourth Edition, (“WAIS-IV”), was administered, and Cornett obtained a verbal comprehension score of 76; a perceptual reasoning score of 84; a working memory score of 74; a processing speed score of 94; and a full-scale IQ score of 78. (R. at 297.) This full-scale IQ score placed Cornett in the borderline range of intellectual functioning. (R. at 298.) Harper reported that Cornett struggled to comprehend written material. (R. at. 298-99.) The Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, Third Edition, (“WIAT-III”), was administered, and Cornett's reading comprehension and math skills fell within the low range, demonstrating significant difficulty completing these tasks. (R. at 298-99.) Harper opined that Cornett continued to require special education services. (R. at 299.)

         On March 5, 2012, records from Tazewell County Public Schools show that Cornett demonstrated weakness in the area of reading comprehension and math. (R. at 253.) It was reported that Cornett had extreme difficulty staying focused and on task; he required constant prompting to start and finish assignments; he required repeated directions; and his cognitive ability scores ranged from borderline to the average range. (R. at 254-55, 299.) Cornett was found to have a disability under ...

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