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Karen S. H. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 25, 2019

Karen S. H., Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          David L. Christianson, Esq., Thomas A. Krause, counsel for Plaintiff.

          Bahram Samie, Esq., United States Attorney's Office, counsel for Defendant.


          BECKY R. THORSON United States Magistrate Judge.

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff Karen S. H. seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying her application for disability insurance benefits. This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, in accordance with D. Minn. LR 7.2(c)(1). (Doc. Nos. 13, 16.) For the reasons stated below, the Court concludes that the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record. Therefore, Plaintiff's motion is denied and Defendant's motion is granted.


         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) on July 17, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of July 1, 2011. (Tr. 18, 258.)[1] The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied her claim initially on December 17, 2014, and on reconsideration on April 23, 2015. (Tr. 18, 180-84, 192-94.) A hearing was then held by the ALJ on October 20, 2016. (Tr. 18, 136-47.) After the hearing, Plaintiff submitted additional medical evidence, which was reviewed and added to the record. (Tr. 11-110.) The ALJ issued a decision denying benefits on November 9, 2016 (Tr. 18, 111), and Plaintiff sought review. The SSA Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on October 3, 2017, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-6); 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

         On April 11, 2018, Plaintiff filed this action seeking judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. No. 1, Compl.) The parties then filed cross-motions for summary judgment, pursuant to the Local Rules. (Doc. Nos. 13, 16.) In Plaintiff's motion, she argues that the ALJ erred at step four of the disability evaluation analysis in determining Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to evaluate properly the work-related limitations as described by the examining psychologist, Dr. June Meyerhoff. (Doc. No. 14, Pl.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. (“Pl.'s Mem.”) 15-26.) Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ erred at step five of the analysis in that the ALJ's RFC hypothetical question to the vocational expert did not precisely set forth Plaintiff's credible limitations. (Pl.'s Mem. 26-28.) Defendant argues that the ALJ properly assigned little weight to the opinion of the consultative examiner, because Dr. Meyerhoff was unable to review the most recent medical evidence and the opinion did not address all of Plaintiff's functional limitations. (Doc. No. 17, Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J (“Def.'s Mem.”) 13-31.)

         II. Relevant Factual Background

         Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on July 14, 2014, alleging an onset date of July 1, 2011. (Tr. 114, 258.) From her date of alleged onset through 2014, Plaintiff sought and received medical treatment to address various physical complaints. Plaintiff's appeal relates to her mental impairments. Accordingly, the summary of facts focuses on Plaintiff's history of anxiety and depression.

         Dr. Anderson:

         On April 25, 2014, Plaintiff saw her primary care physician, Christina E. Anderson, M.D., for a routine physical examination. (Tr. 650, 655.) During the examination, Dr. Anderson administered the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) depression screening and the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7) screening. (Tr. 652-53.) Her scores indicated mild depression and minimal anxiety. (Tr. 652-53.)

         Plaintiff saw Dr. Anderson again on November 24, 2014, stating that she continued to feel somewhat down. (Tr. 688, 691.) Plaintiff told Dr. Anderson that she felt crabby and irritated and wanted to try seeing a psychologist. (Tr. 691.) On the PHQ-9 and GAD-7, her overall scores indicated severe depression and anxiety. (Tr. 690.) Dr. Anderson increased Plaintiff's Lyrica dose, prescribed Cymbalta, and advised Plaintiff to start taking vitamin D daily. (Tr. 692.) Dr. Anderson also referred Plaintiff to psychologist, June Meyerhoff, Psy.D. (Tr. 692.)

         Dr. Meyerhoff:

         On December 6, 2014, Plaintiff presented for a consultative examination with Dr. Meyerhoff. (Tr. 565-71.) Plaintiff reported anxiety with panic attacks, not liking to be around other people, feeling irritable and lashing out, and endorsed episodic depression. (Tr. 565, 567.) Plaintiff described a history of intermittent treatment and said her primary care physician had most recently prescribed Cymbalta a week prior, but she had stopped taking it due to a feared medication interaction with over-the-counter cold medicine. (Tr. 566.)

         Plaintiff reported that she lived with her husband, two children, and two dogs. (Tr. 568.) She said she liked to watch movies, read, clean the house, and play computer games. (Tr. 566.) She said she would become easily distracted when working on tasks and had to take breaks. (Tr. 567.) On a typical day, she would get up with her children around 6 a.m., let the dogs out, eat, take her medication, shower, and dress. (Tr. 567.) She said she woke her husband up around 9:30 a.m. and would watch television, play games, pay bills, sometimes go to appointments, prepare dinner, and make ...

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