Stout v. Commissioner of Social Security
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER by Magistrate Judge Regina S. Edwards on 8/1/2022. The final decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. This is a final and appealable Order and there is no just cause for delay. cc: counsel (SRH)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:21-CV-00180-RSE
Acting Commissioner of Social Security
The Commissioner of Social Security denied Claimant James. S.’s (“Claimant’s”)
applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. Claimant
presently seeks judicial review of the Commissioner’s denial pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both
Claimant (DN 20) and the Commissioner (DN 26) have filed a Fact and Law Summary. The parties
have consented, under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed. R. Civ. P. 73, to the undersigned United States
Magistrate Judge conducting all further proceedings in this case, including issuance of a
memorandum opinion and entry of judgment, with direct review by the Sixth Circuit Court of
Appeals in the event an appeal is filed. (DN 13).
Claimant is in his forties, has a high school education, and lives in a mobile home with his
mother. Claimant applied for supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”) under Title XVI and
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II on October 17, 2017. (Transcript, hereinafter
“Tr.” 189-95). He alleged disability beginning October 10, 2017 due to: “ischemic stroke, heart
attack, teomalacia, scoliosis, osteoarthritis, mental health issues, osteomalacia, high blood
pressure, high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes insipidus, migraines, PT Dx Arthritis, not
producing testosterone, depression, anxiety, and bipolar.” (Tr. 209-10). Claimant’s applications
were denied on initial review (Tr. 59-88) and denied again on reconsideration (Tr. 102-139).
At Claimant’s request, Administrative Law Judge Robert Martin (“ALJ Martin”)
conducted a hearing in Nashville, Tennessee on August 16, 2019. (Tr. 37). Claimant appeared in
person with his attorney. (Tr. 39). An impartial vocational expert also appeared at the hearing.
(Id.). During the hearing, Claimant gave the following relevant testimony. Approximately fifteen
years ago, Claimant worked as a CNA at a senior living facility. (Tr. 41-42). He also previously
worked as a night auditor/clerk at a hotel and as a telephone operator. (Tr. 42-43). At his last job
at InspiriTec, Claimant received accommodations from Vocational Rehabilitation, including an
orthopedic chair, a footstool, and an arm device. (Tr. 48-49). Claimant stopped working after
experiencing a cardio infraction and/or ischemic stroke and was not released by his primary care
physician to return to work. (Tr. 43).
Claimant’s mother helps him get dressed, fixes his meals, cleans the house, and does the
chores. (Tr. 44). After sitting for more than 15-20 minutes, Claimant allegedly gets pain down his
tailbone and eventually his right leg goes numb. (Tr. 45). He estimates he can stand for about
fifteen minutes before pain begins in his lower back and travels down to his legs and can walk
approximately fifteen steps at a time. (Id.). Regarding treatment for his lumbar stenosis, Claimant
explains the condition is inoperable, but he uses his sister’s pool for physical therapy. (Tr. 46-47).
He has been using a cane for several years to provide stability while walking and assist when his
legs give out. (Tr. 50-51).
Claimant spends most his day laying flat on his back. (Tr. 48). He started mental health
treatment in April of 2018 and is prescribed medication but does not attend counseling or therapy.
(Id.). Back pain, depression, and anxiety keep Claimant isolated in his trailer; he only leaves one
to two times a month. (Tr. 51). Claimant “enjoy[s] being reclusive.” (Id.).
ALJ Martin issued an unfavorable decision on October 21, 2019. (Tr. 29-30). ALJ Martin
applied the traditional five-step sequential analysis promulgated by the Commissioner, 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520, Kyle v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 609 F.3d 847, 855 (6th Cir. 2010), and found as follows.
First, Claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 10, 2017, his alleged
onset date. (Tr. 17). Second, Claimant has the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease,
lumbar; headache; anxiety; and depression. (Id.). Third, none of Claimant’s impairments or
combination of impairments meets or medically equals the severity of a listed impairment from 20
C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App’x 1. (Tr. 18).
Between the third and fourth steps, ALJ Martin found Claimant has the residual functional
capacity to perform light work with the following limitations. Claimant can:
Lift/carry and push/pull 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally; sit 6
hours in an 8-hour workday; and stand/walk 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. Avoid
concentrated exposure to work around hazardous machinery, moving parts,
vibrations, and work at unprotected heights. Limited to simple routine repetitive
tasks and simple work related decisions. Can interact appropriately with
supervisors and co-workers. No more than occasional interaction with the generalpublic. Can adapt to occasional changes in the workplace. Can maintain
concentration, persistence, and pace for such tasks with normal breaks spread
throughout the day.
(Tr. 19-20). Fourth, Claimant cannot perform any of his past relevant work as a referral and
information aid, hotel night auditor, or nurse assistant. (Tr. 28). ALJ Martin found, based on
Claimant’s age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, that jobs exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that Claimant can perform. (Id.). Based on this
analysis, ALJ Martin concluded Claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social
Security Act from October 10, 2017, his alleged onset date, through October 21, 2019, the date of
decision. (Tr. 29-30).
Claimant administratively appealed ALJ Martin’s decision. (Tr. 186-88). The Appeals
Council considered Claimant’s disagreement with ALJ Martin’s decision but declined review
because Claimant’s arguments did not provide a basis for changing the decision. (Tr. 1). At that
point, the denial became the final decision of the Commissioner, and Claimant appealed to this
Court. (DN 1).
II. Standard of Review
Administrative Law Judges make determinations as to social security disability by
undertaking the five-step sequential evaluation process mandated by the regulations. Vance v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 260 F. App’x 801, 803-04 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d
918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990)); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). Throughout this process, the
claimant bears the overall burden of establishing that they are disabled; however, the
Commissioner bears the burden of establishing the claimant can perform other work existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 804 (quoting Wilson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.,
378 F.3d 541, 548 (6th Cir. 2004)).
When reviewing the Administrative Law Judge’s decision to deny disability benefits, the
Court may “not try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of
credibility.” Cutlip v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994) (citations
omitted). Instead, the Court’s review of the Administrative Law Judge’s decision is limited to an
inquiry as to whether the Administrative Law Judge’s findings were supported by substantial
evidence, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 353 (6th Cir. 2001) (citations
omitted), and whether the Administrative Law Judge employed the proper legal standards in
reaching his conclusion. See Landsaw v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th
Cir. 1986). Substantial evidence exists “when a reasonable mind could accept the evidence as
adequate to support the challenged conclusion, even if that evidence could support a decision the
other way.” Cotton v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 692, 695 (6th Cir. 1993). The Supreme Court has clarified
that “whatever the meaning of ‘substantial’ in other contexts, the threshold for such evidentiary
sufficiency is not high[.]” Biestek v. Berryhill, 139 S. Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (citations omitted).
III. Conclusions of Law
Claimant challenges three aspects of ALJ Martin’s RFC determination. A claimant’s RFC
is defined as the “maximum degree to which the individual retains the capacity for sustained
performance of the physical-mental requirements of jobs.” 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 2 §
200.00(c). Put otherwise, the RFC is the most a claimant can do despite their physical and mental
limitations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1). An ALJ bases their RFC determination
on “all of the relevant medical and other evidence” in the case record. Id. (a)(3). This requires the
ALJ to evaluate the persuasiveness of the medical opinions in the record and assess the claimant’s
subjective allegations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520c, 404.1529(a).
In this case, the new regulations for evaluating medical opinion evidence apply because
Claimant filed his applications for supplemental security income benefits and disability insurance
benefits after March 27, 2017. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520c. The new regulations specify that an
ALJ will not give any specific evidentiary weight to any medical opinion, even the opinions of a
claimant’s treating physician. Id. ALJs now evaluate the “persuasiveness” of medical opinions
using five factors: (1) supportability; (2) consistency; (3) relationship to the claimant; (4)
specialization; and (5) other factors. Id. (c)(1)-(5). Of these factors, supportability and consistency
are the most important. Id. (a), (b)(2). The regulations, accordingly, require ALJs to explain how
they considered the supportability and consistency factors in their determination. Id. (b)(2).
Comparatively, ALJs “may, but are not required to, explain” their consideration of factors (3)-(5).
In assessing a medical opinion’s “supportability,” “[t]he more relevant the objective
medical evidence and supporting explanations presented by a medical source are to support his or
her medical opinion(s) . . . the more persuasive the medical opinions . . . will be.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520c(c)(1). And the “consistency” factor denotes the extent to which the medical opinion “is
consistent with the evidence from other medical sources and nonmedical sources in the claim[.]”
A. ALJ Martin’s Evaluation of Dr. Qureshi’s Opinion
Claimant first argues ALJ Martin ignored Dr. Saadia Quereshi’s letter in assessing the
opinion evidence of record. (DN 20-1, at PageID # 977-78). On March 16, 2016, Dr. Qureshi wrote
a letter on Claimant’s behalf to his employer, InspiriTec. (Tr. 329). Dr. Qureshi’s letter indicated
Claimant’s diagnosis of osteomalacia “limits his ability to stand and/or sit for long periods of time;
his functional limitations include “work tolerance and difficulty relating to others;” and “his
depression and anxiety may cause him to require more training and supervision than most
employees.” (Tr. 329). Dr. Qureshi further stated Claimant “would benefit from reasonable
accommodations that include 15 minute breaks every two hours and an orthopedic desk chair.”
Though recognizing ALJ Martin mentioned Dr. Qureshi’s opinion while outlining the
evidence, Claimant asserts ALJ Martin never offered any explanation for rejecting the opinion.
(Id.). Claimant highlights Dr. Qureshi’s statements that he would benefit from reasonable
accommodations in the workplace, including 15-minute breaks every 2 hours and an orthopedic
desk chair. (Id. citing (Tr. 329)). ALJ Martin’s failure to discuss the supportability or consistency
of Dr. Qureshi’s opinion, Claimant contends, was reversible error. (Id.).
The Commissioner responds that Dr. Qureshi’s letter does not qualify as a “medical
opinion” under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1513(a)(2)(i) because it does not assess specific work-related
limitations. (DN 26, at PageID # 1011). Instead, the Commissioner points out Dr. Qureshi’s letter
only makes general statements as to Claimant’s condition, including several undefined limitations
on sitting, standing, difficulty relating to others, and work tolerance. (Id.). As for Dr. Qureshi’s
statements that Claimant would benefit from 15-minute breaks every 2 hours and an orthopedic
desk chair, the Commissioner distinguishes these recommendations as “beneficial” to Claimant,
rather than required accommodations. (Id. at 1011-12).
20 C.F.R. § 404.1513(a)(2) defines the term “medical opinion” for claims filed on or after
March 27, 2017 as follows:
A medical opinion is a statement from a medical source about what you can still do
despite your impairment(s) and whether you have one or more impairment-related
limitations or restrictions in the following abilities:
(i) Your ability to perform physical demands of work activities, such as sitting,
standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, or other physical functions
(including manipulative or postural functions, such as reaching, handling, stooping,
(ii) Your ability to perform mental demands of work activities, such as
understanding; remembering; maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace;
carrying out instructions; or responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers,
or work pressures in a work setting;
(iii) Your ability to perform other demands of work, such as seeing, hearing, or
using other senses; and
(iv) Your ability to adapt to environmental conditions, such as temperature or
extremes of fumes.
The Court agrees with the Commissioner that Dr. Qureshi’s letter does not seem to qualify as a
“medical opinion” under the regulations, as it fails to state what Claimant “can still do despite [his]
impairments.” See, e.g., Gabel v. Kijakazi, No. 1:20-CV-334-DCP, 2022 WL 2349716, at *8-9
(E.D. Tenn. June 29, 2022) (finding physician’s letter did not qualify as medical opinion where it
failed to reference how plaintiff “may or may not be able to perform the physical demands of any
specific work activities”). Rather, Dr. Qureshi’s letter speculatively mentions limitations in
Claimant’s ability to stand/and or sit for long periods and with work tolerance and difficulty
relating to others. And the suggestive language Dr. Qureshi utilized in recommending 15-minute
work breaks and use of an orthopedic chair does not constitute an opinion on Claimant’s ability to
perform physical or other demands of work activities. Dr. Qureshi’s letter is simply too vague to
warrant classification as a medical opinion, which would trigger consideration of consistency and
supportability under § 404.1520c.
Dr. Qureshi’s letter, instead, constitutes “other medical evidence” under § 404.1513(a)(3).
The regulations explain “other medical evidence” includes evidence from a medical source,
including “judgments about the nature and severity of your impairments, your medical history,
clinical findings, diagnosis, treatment prescribed with response, or prognosis.” While an ALJ
should not “outright disregard” this type of evidence, he ultimately “has discretion to determine
the proper weight to afford” it. Gabel, 2022 WL 2349716, at *9 (quoting Davis v. Comm’r of Soc.
Sec., No. 5:19-CV-2929, 2021 WL 2642953, at *5 (N.D. Ohio June 28, 2021) (add’l citation
omitted)). ALJ Martin considered Dr. Qureshi’s letter when evaluating the medical evidence. (Tr.
22). Though not stated explicitly, ALJ Martin found such evidence inconsistent with other
evidence of record. Accordingly, ALJ Martin’s evaluation of Dr. Qureshi’s letter complies with
the applicable regulations.
B. ALJ Martin’s Evaluation of Dr. Shea’s Opinion
Claimant next submits ALJ Martin erred in evaluating an opinion offered by Dr. Raymond
Shea, Claimant’s orthopedist. (DN 20-1, at PageID # 979-81). Dr. Shea completed a Medical
Source Statement of Claimant’s Ability to Do Work-Related Activities on June 21, 2019. (Tr. 81823). Dr. Shea opined extreme limitations on Claimant’s ability to do work-related activities on a
regular and continuous basis. For instance, Dr. Shea checked boxes indicating Claimant could
never lift or carry up to ten pounds; could sit, stand, and walk 1 hour at a time without interruption;
could sit, stand, and walk zero minutes total in an 8-hour work day; could never use his feet to
operate foot controls; could never climb stairs and ramps, climb ladders or scaffolds, balance,
stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; and could never be exposed to environmental limitations of
unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts, operating a motor vehicle, etc.
ALJ Martin “rejected” Dr. Shea’s opinion, noting Dr. Shea’s limitations on Claimant’s
ability to sit, stand, or walk did “not make sense” and “[t]he medical record does not support such
a severe, drastic residual functional capacity.” (Tr. 26-27). ALJ Martin also referenced Claimant’s
MRI from June 2018 showing “only mild to moderate changes with slight displacement on nerve
root, not a compression.” (Tr. 27). He further highlighted the discrepancy in Dr. Shea limiting
Claimant to never operating foot controls while also noting Claimant had a valid driver’s license
and drove to the evaluation. (Id.).
Claimant asserts ALJ Martin improperly rejected Dr. Shea’s opinion. (DN 20-1, at PageID
# 979-81). Claimant emphasizes Dr. Shea’s opinion is highly consistent with the record evidence,
including Dr. Qureshi’s opinion, Dr. Uddin’s examination notes from 2016 to 2018, and Dr.
Uddin’s conclusions Claimant should remain off work indefinitely and is incapable of engaging in
gainful employment. (Id. at PageID # 980-81). If ALJ Martin was confused by Dr. Shea’s opined
sitting, standing, and walking limitations, Claimant asserts he had the option to recontact Dr. Shea.
The Commissioner contends ALJ Martin’s decision to reject Dr. Shea’s opinion was
supported by substantial evidence in the record. Claimant’s pointing to evidence that may have
supported another conclusion, the Commissioner explains, does not demonstrate cause for
reversal. The Commissioner asserts ALJ Martin was not required to recontact Dr. Shea because
his decision provides other reasons for discrediting the opinion beyond the confusion on
Claimant’s sitting, standing, and walking limitations. (DN 26, at PageID # 1005-6). One such
basis, unchallenged by Claimant, is the inconsistency within Dr. Shea’s opinion regarding
Claimant’s ability to use his feet. The Commissioner emphasizes Dr. Shea’s check-box opinion
does not provide any support for his extreme limitations, making it unlikely any ALJ would have
found the opinion persuasive. (Id. at PageID # 1010).
Again, under § 404.1520c, ALJ Martin was required to assess the supportability and
consistency of Dr. Shea’s medical opinion. The Court finds he did so. ALJ Martin considered the
consistency of Dr. Shea’s opinion with the record as a whole. One glaring inconsistency ALJ
Martin emphasized was Dr. Shea opining Claimant could never operate foot controls when other
portions of the record, including Claimant’s examination with Dr. Greg Lynch, indicated Claimant
had a valid driver’s license and drives himself and his mother. (Tr. 27 (citing Tr. 532)).
ALJ Martin also broadly indicated the medical record did not support Dr. Shea’s “severe,
drastic residual functional capacity.” (Tr. 27). Support for ALJ Martin’s conclusion is found
throughout his RFC determination. See, Forrest v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 591 F. App’x 359, 366
(6th Cir. 2014) (recognizing that the ALJ’s analysis may be found throughout the decision). ALJ
Martin spent eight pages analyzing Claimant’s RFC. In doing so, he thoroughly considered
Claimant’s subjective allegations, Claimant’s hearing testimony, treatment records, and diagnostic
findings. ALJ Martin specifically discussed treatment records and diagnostic testing revealing
unremarkable levels of impairments. For instance, ALJ Martin discussed Dr. Shea’s findings on
physical exam that Claimant could not walk any long distance, that the physical musculature in his
lower extremities were still strong, that there was no fluid in his knee, and that he had no
osteoarthritis of the hips. (Tr. 24). Similarly in rejecting Dr. Shea’s opinion, ALJ Martin referenced
Claimant’s June MRI showing “only mild to moderate changes with slight displacement on nerve
root, not a compression.” (Tr. 27). ALJ Martin had previously discussed the MRI findings in depth.
Claimant pitches Dr. Shea’s opinion was consistent with Dr. Uddin’s conclusions Claimant
should remain off work indefinitely and is incapable of engaging in gainful employment. While
Claimant is correct that Dr. Shea’s extreme limitations bolster Dr. Uddin’s conclusions, Dr.
Uddin’s statements of total disability are not the type of record evidence ALJ Martin was required
to consider. “[T]he ultimate issue of disability is reserved to the Commissioner.” Dickey-Williams
v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 975 F. Supp. 2d 792, 820-21 (E.D. Mich. 2013) (quoting Kidd v. Comm’r
of Soc. Sec., 283 F. App’x 336, 341 (6th Cir. 2008)). ALJs may appropriately disregard portions
of opinions or other evidence delving into issues concerning the finding of disability. Id.; see also
Gabel, 2022 WL 2349716, at *6. Dr. Uddin’s statements, accordingly, cannot constitute support
for Dr. Shea’s extreme limitations.
The other record evidence Claimant cites as allegedly supporting Dr. Shea’s opinion does
not automatically render ALJ Martin’s rejection of Dr. Shea’s opinion unsupported. Substantial
evidence exists “when a reasonable mind could accept the evidence as adequate to support the
challenged conclusion, even if that evidence could support a decision the other way.” Cotton v.
Sullivan, 2 F.3d 692, 695 (6th Cir. 1993). Review of ALJ Martin’s whole RFC determination
reveals he considered the totality of the record evidence, including evidence favorable and
unfavorable to a finding of disability.
Lastly, the Court agrees with the Commissioner that ALJ Martin need not have recontacted
Dr. Shea to resolve confusion over his opined sitting, standing, and walking limitations. First,
setting aside the obvious contradiction in Dr. Shea finding Claimant could sit, walk, and stand 1
hour at a time without interruption and finding Claimant could sit, stand, and walk zero minutes
total in an 8-hour workday, neither limitation considered alone is supported by or consistent with
the medical record. ALJ Martin’s very next sentence, indicating “[t]he medical record does not
support such a severe, drastic residual functional capacity,” demonstrates his review of these
limitations against the medical record. And as detailed above, ALJ Martin provided several bases
pursuant to the regulations for rejecting Dr. Shea’s opinion; he did not rely solely on confusion
relating to Dr. Shea’s sitting/walking/standing limitations.
For these reasons, ALJ Martin’s evaluation of Dr. Shea’s opinion is supported by
substantial evidence in the record and complies with the requirements of § 404.1520c.
C. ALJ Martin’s Analysis of Claimant’s Mental RFC
Lastly, Claimant argues ALJ Martin’s mental RFC determination is not supported by
substantial evidence because although he found Dr. Greg Lynch’s consultative examination
findings to be persuasive, ALJ Martin did not fully incorporate Dr. Lynch’s observations. In
analyzing Claimant’s mental RFC, ALJ Martin discussed the State Agency Psychologists’ mental
evaluations and Dr. Lynch’s consultative examination. Dr. Greg Lynch performed a one-time
consultative examination of Claimant on December 18, 2017. (Tr. 532). After his examination, Dr.
Lynch concluded Claimant was slightly limited in his capacity to understand, remember, and carry
out instructions towards performance of simple, repetitive tasks; moderately limited in his ability
to tolerate stress and pressure of day-to-day employment; and moderately limited in his capacity
to respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and work pressures in a work setting. (Tr.
536). Dr. Lynch noted Claimant did not seem limited in his capacity to sustain attention and
concentration towards performance of simple repetitive tasks. (Id.). The State Agency
Psychologists offered very similar restrictions to Dr. Lynch, finding Claimant could understand,
remember, and carry out simple and routine duties that did not require a great deal of independent
judgment; could maintain concentration and attention for 2-hour segments; could interact
appropriately to supervisors and coworkers and occasionally with the public; and could adapt to
routine changes. (Tr. 27 (citing Exs 1A, 2A, 7A, 8A)).
ALJ Martin found the opinions of Dr. Lynch and of the State Agency Psychologists to be
“persuasive” because they were consistent with the medical record. (Tr. 27). Ultimately, ALJ
Martin limited Claimant to “simple routine repetitive tasks and simple work related decisions” and
“no more than occasional interaction with the general-public.” (Tr. 19). ALJ Martin found
Claimant could “interact appropriately with supervisors and co-workers;” “adapt to occasional
changes in the workplace;” and “maintain concentration, persistence, and pace for such tasks with
normal breaks spread throughout the day.” (Tr. 19-20).
Claimant asserts ALJ Martin’s mental RFC determination is not supported by substantial
evidence in the record because he failed to reconcile his findings with Dr. Lynch’s opinion. (DN
20-1). Despite ALJ Martin favorably analyzing Dr. Lynch’s opinion, Claimant reasons he did not
account for Dr. Lynch’s opinion that Claimant has “moderate limitations responding appropriately
to co-workers and supervisors” and “moderate limitations in day-to-day employment and ability
to tolerate stress.” (Id. at PageID # 982 (quoting Tr. 19)). To support ALJ Martin’s RFC
determination failing to account for Dr. Lynch’s limitations, Claimant cites Dr. Uddin’s treatment
records, Dr. Uddin’s statements as to disability, Dr. Lynch’s exam notes, and Dr. Ahmad’s
treatment notes. (Id. at PageID # 983-84).
The Commissioner argues ALJ Martin properly incorporated Dr. Lynch’s restrictions into
Claimant’s RFC. (DN 26, at PageID # 1013-14). The highly trained State Agency Psychologists,
the Commissioner notes, also considered Dr. Lynch’s moderate restrictions, found them highly
persuasive, and assessed specific limitations. (Id. at PageID # 1014). Regardless, the
Commissioner maintains ALJ Martin was not required to adopt Dr. Lynch’s opinion verbatim in
finding it persuasive. (Id. at PageID # 1015).
The Commissioner is correct that ALJs are not required to “adopt opinions [they] find
persuasive ‘verbatim[.]’” Covell v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., No. 5:21-CV-01296-JG, 2022 WL
1432038, at * 7 (N.D. Ohio, Apr. 25, 2022) (citing Kearns v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., No. 3:19 CV
01243, 2020 WL 2841707, at *13 (N.D. Ohio Feb. 3, 2020)). But if the ALJ’s RFC determination
conflicts with a medical opinion found to be persuasive, the ALJ must explain why he did not
adopt the conflicting portion. Bryson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., No. 3:20-CV-667-CHB, 2022 WL
945318, at *4 (W.D. Ky. Mar. 29, 2022); see also Hankinson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., No. 2:18CV-58, 2019 WL 6695821, at *4 (S.D. Ohio Dec. 9, 2019) (citations omitted) (an ALJ must still
“explain why he failed to include articulated limitations where he has found that the RFC is
consistent with the medical opinion.”)). To prove error under such circumstances, Claimant must
demonstrate ALJ Martin’s RFC determination conflicted with Dr. Lynch’s opinion and ALJ
Martin failed to explain the contradiction. Id.
Upon review, ALJ Martin evidently considered Dr. Lynch’s opinion when crafting
Claimant’s mental RFC. ALJ Martin incorporated Dr. Lynch’s moderate limitation as to
Claimant’s ability to tolerate stress and pressure of day-to-day employment by limiting Claimant
to “simple routine repetitive tasks and simple work related decisions,” to “occasional workplace
changes,” and to “no more than occasional interaction with the general-public.” (Tr. 19). See, e.g.,
Bryson, 2022 WL 945318, at *3. Because ALJ Martin’s limitations adequately account for and do
not conflict with Dr. Lynch’s moderate limitation in tolerating stress and pressure of day-to-day
employment, no further explanation from ALJ Martin was required.
ALJ Martin’s consideration of Dr. Lynch’s moderately limiting Claimant’s ability to
respond appropriately to supervision and coworkers requires slightly more analysis. On its face, it
appears Dr. Lynch’s moderate limitation conflicts with ALJ Martin’s conclusion that Claimant
could “interact appropriately with supervisors and co-workers.” And ALJ Martin does not appear
to offer any explanation for this conflict. On closer inspection, however, ALJ Martin together
found the State Agency Psychologists’ evaluation and Dr. Lynch’s opinion were persuasive and
consistent with the record. ALJ Martin’s finding that Claimant could interact appropriately with
supervisors and coworkers comes from the State Agency Psychologists’ evaluations, who had
previously reviewed Dr. Lynch’s opinion. Point being, ALJ Martin did not pull this limitation, or
lack thereof, out of thin air. In this context, the Court finds any error from ALJ Martin failing to
explicitly state why he did not adopt Dr. Lynch’s moderate limitation in responding appropriately
to supervisors was harmless because there is a clear and supported basis for ALJ Martin’s finding
in the record. See, e.g., Bryson, 2022 WL 945318, at *6 (applying harmless error analysis to ALJ’s
potential error in not explaining his failure to adopt a medical opinion’s findings verbatim).
As for Claimant’s assertions that other evidence in the record supports Dr. Lynch’s
limitations that ALJ Martin allegedly failed to account for, the Court is again unconvinced. Once
more, Claimant simply pointing to other evidence in the record that may support a decision the
other way does not necessarily warrant relief. ALJ Martin’s RFC analysis thoroughly discussed
Claimant’s history of mental impairment. (Tr. 24-25). Critically, ALJ Martin discussed evidence,
including Claimant’s subjective reports, Claimant’s mother’s statements, and treatment notes, both
favorable and unfavorable to Claimant’s disability allegations. ALJ Martin highlighted that in
February of 2018, three months after Dr. Lynch’s examination, Claimant presented as stable, with
his chronic generalized anxiety well managed on his current medications. (Id.). He further
discussed records from June of 2018, where Claimant presented with worsening anxiety, including
restlessness, racing thoughts, worrying, and his medications were adjusted. (Id. (citing Ex. 18F)).
In July and September of 2018, Claimant reported improvement in anger on Risperdal, functioning
fairly well with stable mood, and feeling calm and relaxed. (Id. (citing Ex 18F; 23F)). And though
records from 2019 indicated Claimant’s high stress and isolation, with panic attacks almost daily
and hand tremors, he presented as cooperative and attentive with no gross behavior abnormalities.
(Id. (citing Ex. 23F)). By detailing Claimant’s mental health records, ALJ Martin clearly
considered this evidence in finding the State Agency Psychologist’s evaluations and Dr. Lynch’s
opinion persuasive. ALJ Martin’s mental RFC determination is supported by substantial evidence
in the record and complies with the applicable regulations.
Based on the above analysis, the Court finds the Commissioner’s decision is supported by
substantial evidence in the record and complies with the applicable regulations. IT IS
THEREFORE ORDERED that the final decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
This is a final and appealable Order and there is no just cause for delay.
August 1, 2022
Counsel of Record
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