United States District Court, D. Nebraska
PAIGE D. DEBORD, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security; Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Smith Camp Chief United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court the Motion to Reverse
Commissioner's Decision, ECF No. 16, filed by Plaintiff
Paige Debord, and the Motion to Affirm Commissioner's
Decision, ECF No. 14, filed by Defendant Carolyn Colvin,
Commissioner of Social Security. Both motions are filed
pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the
“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85. For the
reasons stated below, the Motion to Reverse will be denied,
and the Motion to Affirm will be granted.
filed for Title II benefits on December 2, 2013. Tr.
Debord's claim was denied initially, and on
reconsideration, and a hearing was held on February 13, 2015.
The ALJ issued an opinion on March 26, 2015, denying
benefits. Debord requested review of the ALJ decision by the
Appeals Council, which denied the request, thus making the
ALJ's decision final. Tr. 1.
is required to follow a five-step sequential analysis to
determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The ALJ must continue the analysis
until the claimant is found to be “not disabled”
at steps one, two, four or five, or is found to be
“disabled” at step three or step five. See
id. Step one requires the ALJ to determine whether the
claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful
activity. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i),
(b). The ALJ found that Debord had not been engaged in
substantial gainful activity since November 16, 2013, which
was her reported onset date. Tr. 13.
two requires the ALJ to determine whether the claimant has a
“severe impairment.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(c). A “severe impairment” is an
impairment or combination of impairments that significantly
limits the claimant's ability to do “basic work
activities” and satisfies the “duration
requirement.” See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c), 404.1509 (“Unless your
impairment is expected to result in death, it must have
lasted or must be expected to last for a continuous period of
at least 12 months.”). Basic work activities include
“[p]hysical functions such as walking, standing,
sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying, or
handling”; “[c]apacities for seeing, hearing, and
speaking”; “[u]nderstanding, carrying out, and
remembering simple instructions”; “[u]se of
judgment”; “[r]esponding appropriately to
supervision, co-workers and usual work situations”; and
“[d]ealing with changes in a routine work
setting.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(b). If the claimant
cannot prove such an impairment, the ALJ will find that the
claimant is not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c). The ALJ found that Debord had the
following severe impairments: major depression, generalized
anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”), borderline personality disorder, and a
history of alcohol and opioid dependence. Tr. 13.
three requires the ALJ to compare the claimant's
impairment or impairments to a list of impairments.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d);
see also 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App'x 1
(20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926). If
the claimant has an impairment “that meets or equals
one of [the] listings, ” the analysis ends and the
claimant is found to be “disabled.” See
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d). If a claimant does
not suffer from a listed impairment or its equivalent, then
the analysis proceeds to steps four and five. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The ALJ found that Debord did not
have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments. Tr. 14.
four requires the ALJ to consider the claimant's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to determine
whether the impairment or impairments prevent the claimant
from engaging in “past relevant work.”
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (e), (f).
If the claimant is able to perform any past relevant work,
the ALJ will find that the claimant is not disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (f). The
ALJ found that Debord had the RFC to perform a full range of
work at all exertional levels but also that Debord was
limited to simple, repetitive, and routine work tasks with
only simple workplace decision-making and only occasional
interactions with the public. Tr. 16. The ALJ found that
Debord was unable to perform past relevant work as a forklift
driver, which involved greater capacity for understanding,
remembering, carrying out complex tasks than could be
tolerated under Debord's RFC. Tr. 20-21.
five, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is able to
do any other work considering her RFC, age, education, and
work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). If the
claimant is able to do other work, she is not disabled. The
ALJ determined that there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that Debord could perform,
and, therefore, Debord was not disabled from November 16,
2013, to the date of the decision, March 26, 2015. Tr. 21-22.
was born in 1967, Tr. 11, and graduated from high school in
1985. Tr. 498. She previously worked as a forklift operator,
a position classified as semi-skilled and medium exertion.
Medical Opinion Evidence
December 12, 2013, to December 2, 2014, Debord was seen
multiple times by therapists at Inroads Counseling.
Throughout these visits, Debord retained a Global Assessment
of Functions (“GAF”) score of 50. Tr. 390, 392,
394, 397, 399, 401, 404, 435, 437, 439, 441, 443, 445, 447,
449, 452, 455, 461, 464, 466, 468, 470. At her October 2014
and November 2014 appointments, she was recorded as having no
suicidal thoughts or sleep difficulties, and her thought
process was listed as goal directed. Tr. 467-70. Although she
stated she was able to maintain household responsibilities at
her October appointment, Tr. 467, she stated she could no
longer maintain them by November. Tr. 469. As of December 3,
2014, she was listed as taking Zoloft, Wellbutrin SR,
Trazodone, Xanax as needed, Buspar, and Hydroxine. Tr. 472.
December 15, 2013, Debord's spouse, Jesse Debord
completed a questionnaire describing his wife's behavior.
Jesse Debord noted that his wife did not have much interest
in television, socializing, or other activities she used to
enjoy, such as crocheting. Tr. 198-99. In stressful
situations, Jesse Debord stated that his wife “look[ed]
overwhelmed, ” became “panicky” and
“very quiet, ” and would cry. Tr. 199. He also
stated that when plans or “situations suddenly
change[d], ” she would not “react well” and
“kind of panic.” Tr. 199. Jesse Debord reported
that Debord took care of their daughter and did some chores.
He also mentioned that she got along well with clerks when he
took her to the store, and that her ability to care for
herself had not been affected by the suicide attempt. Tr.
198. He ended the report stating that his wife was a very
active individual but very depressed and inactive following a
suicide attempt. Tr. 200.
November 24, 2014, Debord was evaluated for psychological
functioning by Rosanna Jones-Thurman, Ph.D. Jones-Thurman
first noted that Debord's “response style may
indicate a broad tendency to magnify the level of experienced
illness . . . .” Tr. 502. Jones-Thurman reported that
Debord “evinces an agitated, major depression”
and that she “anxiously expressed suicidal thoughts,
and outbursts of bitter resentment interwoven with a
demanding irritability towards others.” Tr. 504.
Jones-Thurman stated that Debord “appears to be
experiencing a severe psychotic episode characterized by
bizarre thinking and fragmented emotions, perhaps a phase of
an extended schizophrenic course.” Tr. 504.
Jones-Thurman noted that Debord's “memory for
immediate, recent, and remote events was grossly intact,
” that “[h]er concentration and attention were
intact, ” and that [h]er thought organization was
coherent and logical.” Tr. 501. Jones-Thurman's
diagnostic impressions included Schizoaffective Disorder,
Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,
Alcohol Use Disorder, and Schizoid Personality Disorder. Tr.
506. She did not assign a GAF score.
January 5, 2015, Debord was evaluated for psychological
functioning by Patricia Blake, Ph.D. Tr. 473-81. Blake found
that Debord was “oriented, ” but that she
“acted puzzled for purposes of the interview.”
Tr. 475. Blake observed that Debord was “irritable and
rather agitated” and that her “[a]ffect was
variable and occasionally inappropriate.” Tr. 475.
found that Debord's answer to certain questions
“suggest[ed] adequate concentration needed for task
completion.” Tr. 475. Blake concluded that Debord has
“slight” impairment when it came to
“carry[ing] out detailed instructions” and
“[t]he ability to make judgments on simple work-related
decisions, ” but no other work-related impairments. Tr.
477-78. Blake estimated that Debord had a GAF score of 64,
indicating a mild range of symptoms. Tr. 476.
January 9, 2015, Debord was evaluated for psychological
functioning by Michael Coy, M.D. Tr. 482-89. Coy completed a
medical source statement, in which he diagnosed Debord with
Schizoaffective Disorder, Generalized Anxiety, PTSD, and
“Borderline Personality.” Tr. 482. He concluded
that “Schizoaffective Disorder prevents ...