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Beaudreau v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

May 20, 2019

BRAD LEE BEAUDREAU, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          James D. Peterson, District Judge.

         Plaintiff Brad Lee Beaudreau seeks judicial review of a final decision of defendant Nancy Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, finding Beaudreau not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Beaudreau contends that the administrative law judge erred in three ways: (1) giving too much weight to statements of an examining physician who questioned Beaudreau's credibility; (2) failing to give enough weight to other opinions in the record; and (3) failing to account for any mental impairments in the residual functional capacity assessment. The court rejects each contention and will affirm the commissioner's decision and cancel the oral argument scheduled for May 30, 2019.[1]

         ANALYSIS

         The ALJ found that Beaudreau suffered from several severe physical impairments, including obesity, degenerative joint disease, neuropathy, and diabetes. He also considered potential impairments related to “four broad areas of mental functioning”: (1) understanding, remembering, and applying information; (2) interacting with others; (3) concentrating, persisting, and maintaining pace; and (4) adapting and managing oneself. R. 17-18.[2] But the ALJ concluded that Beaudreau didn't suffer from “more than minimal limitation in [his] ability to perform basic mental work activities, ” so any mental impairments he had were “nonsevere.” R. 17. And, despite Beaudreau's physical limitations, the ALJ found that Beaudreau was not disabled because he retained the ability to perform his past work as a security guard.

         Beaudreau doesn't challenge any of the ALJ's findings about Beaudreau's physical impairments, so the court will not consider those. Instead, Beaudreau says that the ALJ made three errors in the way he handled evidence about his mental impairments caused by a 1996 head injury.[3] The court will consider each alleged error in turn.

         A. Reliance on David McKee's opinion

         McKee is a neurologist who examined Beaudreau in July 2015 but found no evidence of impairment. R. 461-62. Beaudreau says that “nearly all of ALJ [David] Washington's decision revolved around” McKee's determination that Beaudreau was exaggerating his symptoms and that the ALJ's reliance on McKee's assessment was improper because the assessment was not supported by the evidence. Beaudreau is wrong on both counts.

         It is true that McKee expressed skepticism about the severity of Beaudreau's symptoms. In his summary of his examination of Beaudreau, McKee made the following observations:

• Beaudreau “quickly made it clear that his reason for coming today is that he was recently denied disability status before a judge in Wisconsin. He related that his lawyer told him that his best chance of getting disability would be to see lots of doctors and get lots of records supporting his claim to have cognitive trouble.” R. 461.
• “Since [his injury] he has worked off and on, but he [seems] to spend much of his time trying to get on disability.” Id.
• “He says he is not able to hold down a job, but it is unclear why.” Id.
• “I suspect that there is evidence in his records that there is no residual cerebral dysfunction. Otherwise, he probably would have brought those supporting records along with him.” Id.
• “I did have the feeling that during the first portion of the interview he was feigning more difficulty than he actually has.” R. 461-62.

         It is also true that the ALJ relied in part on McKee's assessment of Beaudreau. In concluding that Beaudreau didn't suffer from a severe mental impairment, the ALJ cited McKee's opinion multiple times. R. 17.

         But it is simply not accurate that the ALJ rested his decision primarily on McKee. The ALJ also relied on the following reasons to support his finding that Beaudreau ...


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