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Olson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

September 21, 2017

YVONNE OLSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Yvonne Olson seeks judicial review of a final decision of defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, which denied her application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits. In her appeal, plaintiff raises four challenges. The court held a telephonic hearing on Olson's appeal. For the reasons provided below, the court will affirm the Commissioner's determination, enter judgment in defendant's favor, and close this case.


         A. Overview of Claimant

         Olson was 55-years-old at the (amended) alleged onset date; 55 at the time she applied for benefits; and 60 at the time of the second hearing. She has a high school education, is able to communicate in English, and has past work experience as a cashier and bill collector, among other jobs. Olson last worked in 2009 as a cashier at a gas station. She claims disability based on a variety of physical ailments, including asthma, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, dizziness, headaches, goiter and fractured wrist. The focus of the appeal, however, is on her somatoform disorder.

         B. Medical Record

         The medical record contains several reports from psychologists evaluating Olson's neuropsychological state and mental health complaints. A January 13, 2011, report, by Tammy L. Hietpas-Wilson, Ph.D., notes that Olson “reported the onset of cognitive difficulties following her heart surgery in 2006, ” specifically noting forgetfulness, difficulty with attention and concentration, slower processing speed, and problems with fine motor coordination and weakness in both hands. (AR 496.) Hietpas-Wilson reviewed her medical, family and social history. (AR 496-97.) Hietpas-Wilson also conducted a variety of mental examinations and motor tests. (AR 497-99.) As for the test interpretation, the “[r]esults of the intellectual testing revealed verbal abilities at the high end of the low average range.” (AR 500.) As for cognitive functioning tests, “Olson evidenced slow processing speed and mildly impaired phonemic fluency, ” though her “semantic fluency is within normal limits.” (Id.) Other cognitive testing results were average or within the normal range. (Id.) Motor testing demonstrated “mild impairment in manual dexterity and strength in her left hand and fine motor slowing in the borderline range for her left hand.” (Id.) (She's left-handed.) There was no sign of slowing in her right hand, but “her manual dexterity and strength were low average on her non-dominant side.” (Id.)

         With regard to psychological functioning, Hietpas-Wilson stated that the “results of the MMPI-2 were invalid as she responded in a manner suggesting of trying to create a favorable impression or denying/repressing psychological distress.” (AR 500.) As part of that assessment, Hietpas-Wilson stated, “[h]er responses indicate a highly unusual degree or combination of somatic complaints, even in individuals with genuine health problems.” (AR 501.)

         In summarizing her impressions, Hietpas-Wilson noted “[i]nterview and test data revealed a talkative almost attention seeking woman with impaired processing speed and phonemic fluency.” (Id.) Hietpas-Wilson also noted impairment/decline in her left hand. Still, she performed within normal ranges on various cognitive skills. Hietpas-Wilson concluded:

Psychological testing showed a preoccupation with somatic complaints and an absence or denial of psychological distress. Her impairments in processing speed and motor functioning are most likely residual sequelae of her CABG [heart condition], but may also reflect some exaggeration. Her perception that her problems have worsened may reflect a greater awareness/preoccupation with her residual problems, which is colored by a histrionic personality style.


         Hietpas-Wilson also completed a January 2012 report, the purpose of which was to “rule out the presence of a neurodegenerative process in addition to cognitive dysfunction from the CABG.” (AR 931.) Hietpas-Wilson concluded that “[g]iven the patient's report of stable cognitive functioning, additional cognitive testing is not warranted. At the present time, it does not appear that she has a neurodegenerative disease process and her deficits are like[ly] due to CABG.” (AR 931-32.)

         In an April 10, 2012 report, Rebecca Angle, Ph.D., conducted a mental status evaluation and administered the Wechsler Memory Scale, 4th Edition (WMS-IV). (AR 322.) In the description of history, claimant denied that she experiences symptoms of depression or anxiety. Angle also noted that Olson has never been hospitalized for mental health issues. (AR 322.) The test results were within the low average to average range. (AR 324.) “Results of the memory testing indicate that overall the claimant's abilities are within the average range of functioning.” (AR 325.) Dr. Angle stated that “the claimant does not appear particularly motivated to work.” (AR 325.) She also stated that Olson's “prognosis with regard to her mental health is judged to be good. She identified no diagnosis on Axis I or II and for Axis III, said “see current medical treatment notes.” Angle believed that Olson “would likely have the ability to understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions that might be given to her, ” but that she would need assistance in managing funds. (AR 325-26.)

         Critical to Olson's appeal, Steven Benish, Ph.D., issued a report on June 2, 2014, based on his consultative examination of Olson. Benish noted that “[p]ast psychiatric and psychological evaluations have described the claimant's behavior in terms of ‘attention seeking', somatization, and ‘histrionic personality style'.” (AR 854.) Benish described Olson's attitude, speech, mood and affect, and asked her about various symptoms. ...

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