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Scott v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

August 20, 2019

PRECIOUS SHAVON SCOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING AND ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Background

         The plaintiff, Precious Shavon Scott, filed a complaint against the Commissioner of Social Security seeking review of a decision denying her claims for supplemental security income benefits. ECF No. ECF No. 1-1 at 1-2. Both the plaintiff and the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 35 and 58.

         In the plaintiff's brief, the plaintiff first contends that she was disabled and that when she went to the Social Security Administration office in Arizona, she was informed that her case was closed because she was no longer disabled. ECF No. 35 at 2. She states that she had just been diagnosed with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, suffers from a variety of medical issues, and is now more disabled than she was when she was first approved for benefits. Id. at 2, 4. She further contends that she was advised each month to sign a "waiver" indicating that she was appealing the agency's decision to terminate her benefits and that she wants to continue receiving benefits until a final decision is made. Id. The plaintiff states that she eventually stopped receiving any benefits without warning. Id.

         The plaintiff next asserts that the administrative law judge ("ALJ") did not correctly account for the dates in question. Id. The plaintiff then "objects and prays the court will make her aware of the non-specific State Agency that found her no longer disable. By providing the full medical report. Neither before nor after turning 18 was the Plaintiff redetermined." Id. Plaintiff also contends that the residual functional capacity assessment was not completed, and that the doctors who evaluated her did not take "this matter, seriously enough to obtain adequate medical records or to sign the forms they completed." Id. The plaintiff also "objects to the treatment received at the Local SSA office in Tucson, AZ." Id. The plaintiff further states that she attempted to seek help for her medical conditions, but her insurance would not provide the necessary coverage. Id. at 4.

         The plaintiff states that her attorney was not diligent and did not remain informed of the details of her case. Id. The plaintiff also contends that "[i]t was [the ALJ's] responsibility to obtain emergency room records and or subpoena the doctors, friends and the Plaintiff's family members in effort to satisfy the guidelines set forth by Appeals Council, Mark K. Haydu. In the Order Of Appeals Council Exhibit No. B5A R# 4 of 6 . . . [w]hich [the] ALJ [ ] did not do." Id. at 7.

         The plaintiff then presents a "proposed stipulation of facts" and later proceeds in presenting her contentions. Id. at 8-9. The plaintiff explains that there are missing records and so the ALJ's determination was not based on an accurate reflection of her conditions, that she was not adequately represented, and that the doctors who examined her were not properly informed of her conditions and did not properly evaluate her conditions. Id. at 10-12. The plaintiff then concludes by requesting that the Court obtain certain medical records, and for certain "funds to be surrendered to the Plaintiff." Id. at 12.

         In contrast, the Commissioner first contends that the ALJ determined that the plaintiff was not engaged in substantial gainful employment, and that she had the severe impairments of depressive disorder, learning disorder, and multiple sclerosis. ECF No. 59 at 7. However, the Commissioner states that the plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the criteria of a listing level impairment. Id. The Commissioner then notes that the ALJ determined that the plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a range of sedentary work, and that the ALJ also determined that the plaintiff had no past relevant work to which she could return. Id.

         Second, the Commissioner contends that the ALJ complied with the instructions from the Appeals Council Remand Order to consider new evidence submitted by the plaintiff as part of her administrative appeal. Id. at 9. Specifically, the Commissioner contends that the ALJ complied with the order by: (1) evaluating all of the new and existing medical opinion evidence and using it to establish the RFC; (2) finding that the plaintiff had multiple sclerosis and considering the symptoms associated with that diagnosis, including whether the symptoms the plaintiff complained of were corroborated by the treatment notes, and whether her symptoms improved when she was treated and when she complied with her medication regimen; (3) by obtaining vocational expert testimony; (4) by holding a new hearing; and (5) and by issuing a new decision. Id. at 9-14.

         Third, the Commissioner asserts that the ALJ adequately informed the plaintiff of her right to counsel, notifying her that she could postpone certain hearings in order to retain an attorney, and stating that she may qualify for free legal services and that the agency could provide attorney referral numbers. Id. at 15. The Commissioner states that the plaintiff elected to proceed with at times without an attorney, and that the ALJ took various measures to ensure development of the record. Id. at 15-16. The Commissioner then states that the plaintiff blames the ALJ for not obtaining certain medical records, but the plaintiff is the one who failed to put forth any evidence that she requested assistance and that the agency did not answer her need for assistance. Id. at 16.

         Fourth, the Commissioner asserts that the plaintiff's potential claim for ineffective assistance of counsel is misplaced since nothing in the Social Security Act or Regulations creates a cause of action against the agency for ineffective assistance of counsel. Id. at 17.

         Fifth, the Commissioner contends that the agency performed the redetermination in a timely manner, within one year of the plaintiff turning 18 years old, pursuant to the regulations. Id. Moreover, the Commissioner states that even if the plaintiff could demonstrate some technical timing error, she has failed to show any unfair prejudice stemming from that error that prevented her from introducing evidence or otherwise limited her claim. Id.

         Sixth, the Commissioner asserts that the ALJ adequately developed the record by securing two consultative examinations. Id. The Commissioner notes that although the plaintiff claims that there are records in existence that are not submitted to the agency, it is the plaintiff's burden of production and not the ALJ's duty to gather evidence. Id. The Commissioner also states that the plaintiff was never prevented in entering evidence into the administrative record. Id. at 19-20. Moreover, the Commissioner maintains that although there may be hurdles in obtaining care or securing a doctor relationship with a preferred provider, those reasons do not determine whether the agency performed its duty in developing the record. Id. at 20.

         Seventh, the Commissioner asserts that substantial evidence supports the ...


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