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Hunt v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

June 14, 2019

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


          BARBARA B. CRABB District Judge.

         Plaintiff Brandon Michael Hunt is seeking review of a final decision by defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, denying his claim for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Dkt. #7. Plaintiff contends that the administrative law judge who decided the case erred in failing to consider the opinion of an examining neuropsychologist and in rejecting the opinion of the psychological expert who testified at the hearing before the administrative law judge. For the reasons explained below, I find that the administrative law judge did not err in reaching his decision. Accordingly, plaintiff's claim will be denied.

         The following facts are drawn from the administrative record (AR).


         A. Social Security Applications and Administrative Proceedings

         Plaintiff Brandon Hunt filed applications for disability insurance and supplemental security benefits on May 30, 2016, contending that he had been disabled since 2008 because of anxiety and intellectual and cognitive impairments. AR 13. He was born on April 23, 1989, making him 27 years old when he applied for benefits. AR 25. Plaintiff lives with his father, has a history of special education and attended school through the eleventh grade without graduating from high school. Although he has had a series of short-term jobs, he reported that he was not able to sustain full-time or regular employment because of his mental health conditions. AR 20, 25.

         On January 10, 2018, Administrative Law Judge Corey Ayling held a hearing at which plaintiff, a psychological expert and a vocational expert testified. AR 13, 32. Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing. In a written decision issued on February 8, 2018, the administrative law judge concluded that plaintiff was severely impaired by generalized anxiety disorder, borderline intellectual functioning with a full-scale intelligence quotient of 75, schizoid personality disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. AR 26. He further found that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform work at any exertional level with the following limitations: simple, routine and repetitive tasks; no continuous, fast-paced work such as assembly-line work; a limitation to simple work-related decisions; and brief and superficial contacts with supervisors, co-workers and the public, “such that work is rated no lower than an ‘8' on the people scale of Appendix B to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, 1991 revised edition.” AR 20.

         In reaching his decision, the administrative law judge found that plaintiff's reported symptoms were “not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record for the reasons explained in this decision.” AR 21. He also found the opinion of Dr. Cheryl Buechner, Ph.D., an impartial medical expert, equivocal about whether plaintiff's condition did or did meet a listing under the Social Security regulations, AR 13, and that the record did not support her testimony. AR 13, 21. (The administrative law judge made several specific findings with respect to Dr. Buechner's testimony that I will discuss in more detail below.) The administrative law judge gave great weight to the opinions of state agency psychologists Dr. Erika Gilot-Montgomery and Dr. Frank Orosz, who assessed no greater than moderate limitations for plaintiff in all functional areas and concluded that plaintiff was capable of simple, unskilled work involving no more than one to three step tasks, no fast-paced tasks and only superficial contact with others. AR 19, 22 and 24 (citing AR 118-21 and 153-55).

         The administrative law judge determined that plaintiff had no past relevant work. AR 25. Relying on the testimony of a vocational expert who testified in response to a hypothetical question based on plaintiff's residual functional capacity assessment, the administrative law judge found that jobs existed in significant No. in the national economy that plaintiff could perform, including cleaner, kitchen helper and laundry worker. AR 25-26.

         B. Relevant Medical Evidence

         Critical to plaintiff's appeal are the opinions of Dr. Jason Kanz, a neuropsychologist who evaluated plaintiff on August 18, 2016, and Dr. Buechner, the psychological expert who testified at the administrative hearing. The findings of these physicians are summarized below. (The record contains no opinions from treating providers.)

         1. Dr. Kanz

         At the request of plaintiff's nurse practitioner, Dr. Kanz performed a diagnostic evaluation of plaintiff on August 18, 2016. He noted that plaintiff reported marked depression and anxiety and that he had below or low average problem solving, reasoning, memory and language skills. Dr. Kanz diagnosed schizoid personality disorder and borderline intellectual functioning (a full scale intelligence quotient of 75 in the fifth percentile) and recommended that plaintiff undergo therapy to increase his positive social relationships as much ...

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