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Bloom v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Utah

January 25, 2018

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



         Plaintiff Catherine Bloom, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeks judicial review of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her claim for supplemental security income (“SSI”) payments under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”). (ECF No. 3.) After careful review of the entire record, the parties' briefs, and arguments presented at a telephonic hearing held on January 16, 2017, the Court[1] AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision.


         Catherine Bloom, age 22 at the time of the administrative law judge's (“ALJ”) decision, has a high school education and no past relevant work. (See Certified Administrative Transcript (“Tr.”), ECF No. 11 at 148-49.) She alleges that she became disabled on April 19, 2013, [2] due to Asperger's syndrome/autism spectrum disorder and anxiety. (Tr. 127, 148.) The ALJ followed the familiar five-step sequential evaluation process at 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4) and determined that Ms. Bloom, while limited by her impairments, could still perform certain unskilled jobs in the national economy and was not disabled as defined by the Act. (Tr. 15-24). The Appeals Council denied Ms. Bloom's request for review, (Tr. 1-5), making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1481, 422.210(a). This appeal followed.


         A. Medical Evidence

         Ms. Bloom alleged disability due to Asperger's/autism spectrum disorder and anxiety, (Tr. 148), for which she received regular counseling from Sheila Taylor, a licensed clinical social worker, (Tr. 223-55; see also Tr. 219-22), and underwent two evaluations by neuropsychologist Adam Schwebach, M.D. (Tr. 213-18, 278-81; see also Tr. 257-58, 285-86.)[3] Ms. Bloom saw Ms. Taylor on approximately a monthly basis from mid-2011 to early 2013. These treatment notes reflect that Ms. Bloom focused on her areas of interest (e.g., writing “intricate” fictional stories, reading, and playing piano), lacked initiative in areas outside her areas of interest (e.g., doing household chores), and struggled with social interaction. (See Tr. 223-55.) Ms. Taylor later wrote a letter stating, among other things, that Ms. Bloom required reminders for appointments and hygiene, was not fully aware of her social deficits, was hyper-focused on writing and music and became frustrated with interruptions, had a limited ability to organize things like shopping or meal preparation, had anxiety about activities outside her home, was not likely to improve, and could not manage her own funds. (Tr. 219-22.)

         Dr. Schwebach evaluated Ms. Bloom in April 2013 and again in July 2014. He concluded that Ms. Bloom had above-average intelligence but deficits in social functioning and in executive functioning, and that she would need ongoing treatment. (See Tr. 213-18, 257-58, 278-81.) He also indicated that Ms. Bloom would have trouble transitioning into independent living and that she should apply for Social Security disability benefits, apply for vocational rehabilitation, or pursue higher education. (Tr. 218, 281.)

         State agency psychiatrist Kenneth Wallis, M.D. and state agency psychologist Garrett Chelsey, Ph.D. reviewed the record in early 2014 and opined that Ms. Bloom's mental impairments caused at most “moderate” mental limitations and would not preclude a range of simple work with reduced public contact. (Tr. 58-62, 69-72.)

         B. Testimony

         At the October 2015 administrative hearing, Ms. Bloom testified that, for the last three or four weeks, she had been working at a bakery eight to eight-and-a-half hours per day two days a week. (Tr. 35.) She got along with her coworkers and did not have problems dealing with the public, although it was stressful when “lots of customers c[a]me in.” (Tr. 36.) She said the job was “mundane, but it pays.” (Tr. 35.) She otherwise left her home at least twice a week with her parents. (Tr. 37.) On the days she was not working, she spent her time writing, doing research, and reading, and did not have problems concentrating. (Tr. 36-38.) She also did household chores like vacuuming, dusting, and cleaning the cat litter boxes. (Tr. 37-38.) She said she was also part of a Star Trek club that met every month. (Tr. 38). She sometimes got into “little disagreements” with her family, but not that often, and did not get irritable with people she did not know. (Tr. 39.)

         Ms. Bloom's mother testified that Ms. Bloom did not want to work and said her job was boring. (Tr. 45, 50.) Ms. Bloom spent days when she was not working using the computer, reading, and writing. (Tr. 46.) Ms. Bloom got along fine with her parents, but had to be reminded to do chores and care for her personal needs, although this had gotten better. (Tr. 46-47, 49.) Ms. Bloom did not speak to her sisters, (Tr. 46), and had not had close friends since school, but had a friend in her Star Trek club and one in another state to whom she wrote letters. (Tr. 47.) Ms. Bloom also went with her family to church, auctions, lunches, and movies. (Tr. 48.)

         Psychologist Kristy Farnsworth, Ph.D., testified that Ms. Bloom had Asperger's syndrome and an anxiety disorder, and that her impairments appeared to meet Listing 12.10. (Tr. 41-42.)

         A vocational expert testified that someone of Ms. Bloom's age and background, and with her residual functional capacity (“RFC”), could perform work in the national economy, including the unskilled ...

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