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Robert L. Yoakem v. Commissioner of Social Security

November 22, 2011

ROBERT L. YOAKEM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandra S. Beckwith Senior United States District Judge

ORDER

This matter is before the Court on Magistrate Judge Litkovitz's Report and Recommendation of August 22, 2011 (Doc.

No. 17) and Plaintiff Robert L. Yoakem's objections to the Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 19). In her Report and Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Litkovitz concluded that the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ's") determination that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security regulations, and therefore not entitled to receive disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, was supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, Judge Litkovitz recommended that the ALJ's decision be affirmed and that this case be closed on the docket of the Court. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's objections to the Report and Recommendation are not well-taken and are OVERRULED. The Court ADOPTS the Report and Recommendation. The decision of the ALJ finding that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security regulations is AFFIRMED.

I. Background

Given the Magistrate Judge's thorough recitation of the medical evidence in the case, as well as the ALJ's decision, and the perfunctory nature of Plaintiff's objections, a brief summary of the case is sufficient to resolve those objections.

Plaintiff filed a claim for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income due to a heart condition and bipolar disorder. Plaintiff's appeal from the ALJ's decision, however, concerns only his mental impairments. Fairly summarized, the medical records concerning Plaintiff's mental impairments show a course of treatment for depression, anxiety, problems with sleep, and suicidal ideation, but with no intent to act out. Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, Dr. Vickery, provided her office treatment notes; however, as Judge Litkovitz observed, Dr. Vickery never provided her opinion as to Plaintiff's mental residual functional capacity. In other words, Dr. Vickery did not provide an opinion as to how Plaintiff's mental impairments affect his ability to work.

There are also office notes from Plaintiff's therapist, Lynda Snellman. At one point Snellman indicated that Plaintiff has extreme limitations in social interaction, concentration, persistence and adaptation. On the other hand, Snellman consistently gave Plaintiff Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") scores which indicated only mild symptoms or slight impairments in social and occupational functioning.

The ALJ obtained the opinion of Dr. Yerian, a consultative psychologist. After an interview, Dr. Yerian diagnosed Plaintiff with Schizoaffective Disorder, Bipolar Type and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Dr. Yerian assigned Plaintiff a GAF score of 41, which indicates serious impairments in social and occupational functioning. In terms of work-related abilities, Dr. Yerian indicated that Plaintiff is moderately impaired in his ability to relate to others, not limited or impaired in memory, not limited in his ability to understand, remember, and follow simple instructions, markedly impaired in maintaining concentration and pace, and severely limited in his ability to withstand the stress and pressures of everyday work.

The ALJ also received mental RFC assessments from reviewing psychologists Dr. Tishler and Dr. Stailey-Steiger. Dr. Tishler opined that Plaintiff's mental impairments were mild to moderate in all areas. Dr. Stailey-Steiger reviewed the record evidence and affirmed Dr. Tishler's RFC.

In his decision, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the mental RFC to perform low stress work, which he defined as simple, repetitive tasks, with no contact with the public and only minimal or superficial contact with supervisors and co-workers. The ALJ noted also that this was the appropriate mental RFC for Plaintiff at his most limited since recent evidence suggested that Plaintiff has no mental limitations at all. In developing Plaintiff's mental RFC, the ALJ gave Dr. Yerian's opinion "some weight" insofar as it was consistent with the RFC the ALJ adopted. In other words, the ALJ apparently accepted Dr. Yerian's opinion concerning Plaintiff's ability to remember and follow simple and complex instructions and his reduced ability in social functioning, but rejected his opinion that Plaintiff has marked or severe limitations in maintaining concentration and pace and withstanding work pressures. The ALJ also discounted Dr. Yerian's opinion because it was based on Plaintiff's subjective reports of symptoms and limitations.

The ALJ declined to give Snellman's opinion great weight because as a social worker, her opinion does not constitute acceptable medical evidence. The ALJ noted, however, that Snellman's assessment that Plaintiff has extreme mental limitations was inconsistent with the GAF ratings she gave Plaintiff which indicated only mild impairments. The ALJ also discounted Snellman's opinion because she appeared to accept uncritically Plaintiff's subjective reports of symptoms and limitations.

The ALJ summarized Dr. Vickery's office treatment notes, but, as indicated, she did not provide any opinions for the ALJ to accept or reject.

The ALJ eventually denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits at the fifth step of the sequential evaluation process. Based on the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ found that there are a substantial number of jobs available in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform given his mental and physical RFC. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security regulations.

The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. Plaintiff then filed a timely ...


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