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Parker v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Utah

October 2, 2019

ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This Social Security disability appeal is before the Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) to review the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. Plaintiff Robert Parker seeks review of the administrative law judge (ALJ) decision denying his claim for supplemental security income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. After reviewing the record and considering the parties' positions at oral argument, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's final decision denying Mr. Parker's claim for SSI.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Parker was 27 years old when he applied for SSI in January 2015.[1] He claimed he was disabled due to bipolar disorder, intellectual disability, anxiety disorder, and personality disorder.

         In 2015, consultative psychologist Dr. Hardy observed that Mr. Parker was friendly and cooperative, “but had a significant rigidity in his interpersonal style” and would “offer odd comments at times.” Mr. Parker's short-term and long-term memory was adequate, and he could remember and recite three steps of a four-step task that was presented verbally. Thereafter, State agency psychological consultants Dr. Gore and Dr. Cherry reviewed the record to evaluate Mr. Parker's mental abilities. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.913a(b)(1) (such “consultants are highly qualified and experts in Social Security disability evaluation.”) They opined that Mr. Parker could follow rules; remember simple one- or two-step instructions that were detailed or complex; attend to simple, repetitive tasks; make simple work-related decisions; respond to minor changes in the work routine; make simple plans; set simple goals; and work in the presence of others and accept supervision and feedback; but should not work with the public or in close coordination with others.

         Mr. Parker saw physician assistant Dalyn Steed in early 2016. At his first visit, he had an anxious and flat affect, minimal eye contact, unkempt grooming, and abnormal judgment and insight. After a medication adjustment, he reported dramatic improvement-he did not feel down, depressed, or hopeless. He was pleasant, with an appropriate mood and affect.

         Mr. Parker saw advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) Brett Robbins in late 2016. Mr. Robbins's examination findings were entirely normal. Mr. Robbins continued to adjust Mr. Parker's mental health medications, and his mental examination findings remained normal through early 2017.

         Mr. Parker saw therapist Mr. Pryor between December 2016 and April 2017. At his initial visit, he appeared a bit nervous, anxious, and fidgety, but had a normal affect, normal memory, normal insight, normal judgment, and normal temperament. In March 2017, Mr. Pryor noted that Mr. Parker's goal was to be independent, “yet he [did not] want to work.” The next month, Mr. Parker told his therapist that he did not “want to work because he [did not] want the government taking his money to pay off his studen[t] loans.” In April 2017, Mr. Parker underwent a psychological evaluation with Dr. Barney. He was neatly groomed, pleasant, and cooperative. He had normal speech, linear and goal-directed thoughts, and “no obvious problems with distractibility.” His “thinking was clear, [and] his attention and concentration were unremarkable”-“[h]e appeared able to focus on the tasks at hand for the entire 3 ½ hour session.” Dr. Barney noted that Mr. Parker “seemed to have some social quirks and oddities, ” such as laughing at unexpected times and reacting excessively-he diagnosed autism spectrum disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. He observed that Mr. Parker “appear[ed] to have no desire to work” and “seem[ed] quite content” living with his mother and sister.

         Mr. Parker began seeing a new therapist, Roger Lister, in May 2017. When Mr. Lister asked Mr. Parker what kept him from working, he “stated that he [was] worried that the government will take $350 a month from him due to past due student loans.” In September, he was doing better. But in November, Mr. Lister opined that Mr. Parker experienced marked impairment in most areas of workplace mental functioning; would be off task 20% or more of a workday; would miss four days or more per month; and would be less than 50% as efficient as an average worker.

         At the November 2017 hearing before the ALJ, Mr. Parker testified that he could not work because he had “trouble being around people” and “often g[o]t confused.” He claimed that he could not “do anything for more than just a few minutes of time before having to either sit down, stand up, or do something that t[ook] [his] attention away.” Psychologist Dr. Hatch examined Mr. Parker at the ALJ's request in December 2017. Mr. Parker told Dr. Hatch that he spent most or all of his time working on computers or playing games on them-he said he spent 12 to 15 hours each day playing video games. Dr. Hatch's examination findings were mixed: Mr. Parker was temperamental, irritable, “a bit naïve, ” and disheveled; displayed inconsistent eye contact; and struggled to recall information. Yet he was also very cooperative, kept up with the pace of the assessment, and could carry out requests and comprehend simple and somewhat more complex verbal instructions.

         The ALJ followed the Commissioner's five-step sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). As relevant here, the ALJ found that Mr. Parker had impairments that qualified as “severe” under the agency's regulations (bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and autism spectrum disorder), but that those impairments did not meet or medically equal a per se disabling impairment from 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1 (the listings). Between steps three and four, the ALJ found that Mr. Parker had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform work at all exertional levels, but with non-exertional limitations to “simple tasks typical of unskilled occupations with no production rate pace work, ” “only occasional interaction with coworkers[, ] and no interaction with the public.” At step five, the ALJ found-consistent with a vocational expert's testimony-that this RFC would allow Mr. Parker to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy). The ALJ thus found at step five that Mr. Parker was not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).


         On appeal, Mr. Parker argues that the ALJ did not provide good reasons to discount the opinion of his therapist, Mr. Lister; did not sufficiently consider the opinions of examining psychologist Dr. Hatch; made inconsistent findings at step three and within the RFC assessment; did not sufficiently address his difficulty with social interaction; and should not have discounted his reported symptoms based on his statement that he did not want to work. The Court ultimately finds these arguments unpersuasive.

         III. ...

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