Snyder v. Commissioner of Social Security
Memorandum Opinion and Order affirming the decision of the Commissioner. Magistrate Judge James R. Knepp, II on 06/26/2017. (H,JD)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
BRUCE SNYDER, II,
Case 1:16 CV 774
Magistrate Judge James R. Knepp, II
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Bruce Snyder, II (“Plaintiff”) filed a complaint against the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) seeking judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision to deny
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). (Doc. 1). The district court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). The parties consent to the exercise of jurisdiction by the undersigned in accordance with
28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Civil Rule 73. (Doc. 13). For the reasons stated below, the Court affirms
the Commissioner’s decision denying benefits.
Plaintiff filed for DIB on July 8, 2013, alleging an onset date of July 1, 2009. (Tr. 146-52).
Plaintiff’s date last insured (“DLI”) for DIB was March 31, 2014. (Tr. 78). Plaintiff’s DIB claims
were denied initially (Tr. 77) and upon reconsideration (Tr. 92). Plaintiff requested a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 114-15) and following an administrative
hearing, received an unfavorable decision on February 18, 2015 (Tr. 14-32). The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff’s request for review (Tr. 1-5), making the hearing decision the final decision of
the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955, 404.981. Plaintiff filed the instant action on March
30, 2016. (Doc. 1).
Personal Background and Testimony
Plaintiff was born on August 14, 1979, and was 35 years old at the time of the ALJ hearing.
(Tr. 41). He has a driver’s license, a motorcycle license, and a commercial driver’s license. (Tr.
42-43). Plaintiff obtained a high school diploma and has a two-year vocational degree in carpentry.
(Tr. 43). At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff had been married for thirteen years to his wife with
whom he has two children. (Tr. 42). He was a member of the Marine Corps from 1997-2001,
serving as a combat engineer. (Tr. 44). Thereafter, Plaintiff worked unloading train cars and
pouring concrete. (Tr. 46-48). At the same time, Plaintiff was self-employed as a carpenter for
eight years. (Tr. 45).
At oral hearing before the ALJ, Plaintiff testified that he stopped working in 2009 when
his depression began. (Tr. 49). Plaintiff said he quit working because he had difficulty leaving the
house. Id. He was unable to concentrate and would become nervous, which would force him to go
home. Id. Plaintiff also testified he had problems with his memory, concentration, and making
decisions. (Tr. 60-61). Nonetheless, Plaintiff stated that his memory and concentration had
improved since he began taking depression medication. Id. In addition to memory and
concentration problems, Plaintiff also testified that he had problems relating to other people. (Tr.
1. Plaintiff only challenges the ALJ’s assessment of Plaintiffs mental impairments. Therefore, any
other claims are waived. See Young v. Sec’y of Health and Human Servs., 925 F.2d 146, 149 (6th
Cir. 1990) (failure to raise a claim in merits brief constitutes waiver). Hence, the undersigned
addresses only the record evidence pertaining to Plaintiff’s arguments about his mental
61). Plaintiff said he often did not know how to act in public and was often nervous when he left
the house. (Tr. 61-62).
Relevant Medical Evidence
On March 9, 2011, Plaintiff underwent a mental health consultation with James A. Cousins,
LSW, at the Veterans Affairs (“VA”) Medical Center in Ashtabula, Ohio. (Tr. 507-09). Plaintiff
complained of mounting depression and anxiety as a result of his health problems. (Tr. 508)
Plaintiff admitted to feeling helpless, hopeless, discouraged, and angry. Id. Plaintiff also
experienced interrupted sleep and an inability to concentrate. Id. Mr. Cousins’s diagnostic
impression was that Plaintiff suffered from depressive disorder not otherwise specified and he
assigned Plaintiff a Global Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”) score of 60.2 (Tr. 514).
Throughout Plaintiff’s consultations at the VA Medical Center in Ashtabula, Ohio, he consistently
had GAF scores between 54 and 60. (Tr. 378, 402, 417, 425, 444, 454, 467, 508, 644).
Thereafter, on March 11, 2011, Karen Woodard, a board certified mental health nurse
practitioner with the VA, evaluated Plaintiff. (Tr. 503). Ms. Woodard observed that Plaintiff
exhibited depressive symptoms, difficulty concentrating and focusing, anger, irritability,
decreased motivation and interest, some anxiety, and some sleep disturbance. (Tr. 503). As a result,
Ms. Woodard diagnosed Plaintiff with depression disorder not otherwise specified (depressive DO,
NOS”) and prescribed Venlafaxine. (Tr. 506). At a follow-up appointment on April 26, 2011, Ms.
2. A GAF is a “clinician’s judgment of [an] individual’s overall level of functioning.” American
Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 32-33 (4th ed.,
Text Rev. 2000) (DSM-IV-TR). A GAF score of 51-60 represents “moderate symptoms, [for
example] flat affect and circumstantial speech, occasional panic attacks, or moderate difficulty in
social, occupational, or school functioning.” Id. at 34. The most recent edition of the Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders recommends that “the GAF be dropped for several
reasons, including its conceptual lack of clarity and questionable psychometrics in routine
practice.” Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 16 (5th ed., Text Rev. 2013).
Woodard observed that Plaintiff was alert and oriented in all spheres and appeared less anxious
and less depressed. (Tr. 494). Furthermore, his thoughts were logical, focused, relevant, and goal
directed. Id. Plaintiff said his sleep was improving, his depression and irritability were under better
control, and his concentration had improved. Id. Plaintiff agreed to monthly treatment with Ms.
Woodard. (Tr. 497).
At his next visit on May 26, 2011, Plaintiff felt his depression and anxiety were improving.
(Tr. 475). Plaintiff said “[e]verything is coming together, I can focus, I can get things done.” Id.
Plaintiff experienced a reduction in the intensity of his depression, anxiety, and irritability, as well
as improvement in motivation, interest, energy levels, concentration, and focus. (Tr. 476).
Thereafter, Plaintiff continued to exhibit progress with his depression and anxiety at his July and
August evaluations. (Tr. 456, 463-64). In November 2011, Plaintiff reiterated that he was doing
better. (Tr. 450).
In January of 2012, Plaintiff reported a stable energy level, improved concentration, and
stable motivation and interest levels. (Tr. 445). Subsequently, in March 2012, Ms. Woodard
observed that Plaintiff was depressed and anxious. (Tr. 441). However, by April 2012, his mental
condition had improved again. (Tr. 433). Plaintiff’s depression, motivation, and interest had
bettered, and he was sleeping well. Id. This trend continued through October 2012. (Tr. 412-13,
421, 428-29). In November 2012, Plaintiff reported an increase in his depression and anxiety. (Tr.
403, 406). Nonetheless, by January 2013, Plaintiff’s depression and anxiety lessened (Tr. 400),
and this improvement continued through February 2013 (Tr. 391-394).
On March 28, 2013, Plaintiff reported more depression and anxiety (Tr. 380), but in April
2013, Plaintiff’s depression had improved somewhat (Tr. 372), and in May 2013 he noted
continued improvement in both depression and anxiety (Tr. 365-68). In July 2013, Plaintiff
expressed problems with his medication, and exhibited greater symptoms of anxiety and
depression. (Tr. 357). These increased symptoms continued through November 2013. (Tr. 634,
814-16, 824-25). Plaintiff communicated more progress in December 2013 (Tr. 812) (“a little less
anxious and depressed”) and January 2014 (Tr. 803), reporting anxiety, but he felt less depressed
(Tr. 803). Notwithstanding, on January 27, 2014, Plaintiff ran out of medication, and in a phone
call to Ms. Woodard, seemed tearful. (Tr. 799-800). He reported depression and anxiety again in
February of 2014, which continued through July 2014. (Tr. 775, 781, 785, 795, 797). In contrast,
Plaintiff was “a little less” anxious and depressed in August 2014. (Tr. 768).
As part of Plaintiff’s evaluation for his compensation and pension plan, VA psychologist
Diane Johnson examined Plaintiff in November 2012. (Tr. 920-28). Dr. Johnson diagnosed
Plaintiff with major depressive disorder, recurrent, moderate, and anxiety disorder, NOS. (Tr. 92122). Dr. Johnson opined that Plaintiff’s depression and anxiety disorder began around December
2010. (Tr. 922). Plaintiff said he was depressed, but Dr. Johnson also noted that he was goal
oriented and logical. (Tr. 923). Additionally, Plaintiff disclosed that he felt better than he had a
year prior. Id.
Dr. Johnson issued an addendum to her initial report in May 2013 addressing Plaintiff’s
employability. (Tr. 928-29). She stated his depression and anxiety were moderate and could be
considered collectively. (Tr. 928). Dr. Johnson observed that Plaintiff would have significant
difficulties with interpersonal functioning and would have moderate difficulties adapting to
stressful situations in a work or social setting. (Tr. 928). Moreover, she believed Plaintiff would
have moderate difficulties establishing and maintaining effective work relationships; however, she
discerned that his thinking process was logical and “would not affect his social or vocational
functioning.” Id. Dr. Johnson also noted Plaintiff’s issues with concentration and motivation would
lead to periodic missed days from work and moderate to serious reductions in occupational
productivity, reliability, efficiency, or work performance. Id.
Dr. Johnson stated that Plaintiff’s ability to sustain concentration; interact and respond
appropriately to coworkers, supervisors, and the general public; respond to changes in the work
setting; and be flexible in the work place were all markedly impaired. Id. However, Dr. Johnson
also stated that Plaintiff’s ability to understand and follow instructions, perform simple tasks, and
accept supervision and criticism would be moderately impaired. (Tr. 929). Furthermore, she
opined that Plaintiff’s short-term and long-term memory, as well as his impulse control in the
workplace, were moderately impaired. Id.
State Agency Reviewers
After Plaintiff applied for DIB in July 2013, on September 3, 2013, state agency
psychologist Leslie Rudy, Ph.D., conducted an assessment of Plaintiff’s records. (Tr. 84-89).
Although she felt increased stress was likely to increase his anxiety and depressive symptoms, she
determined Plaintiff was capable of performing tasks without strict quotas or fast-paced demands.
(Tr. 88). Dr. Rudy declared that Plaintiff was able to carry out detailed instructions, sustain an
ordinary routine without special supervision, and work in coordination with or in proximity to
others without being distracted. Id. She also iterated that Plaintiff was capable of making simple
work-related decisions. Id. Dr. Rudy reported that Plaintiff’s abilities to maintain concentration,
perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual would be
moderately limited. Id. Therefore, she declared that Plaintiff would do best with static work duties.
(Tr. 89). In addition, Plaintiff’s file was reviewed by another state agency psychologist, Karen
Steiger, Ph.D., on November 21, 2013; Dr. Steiger concurred with Dr. Rudy’s assessment. (Tr. 98103).
VE Testimony & ALJ Decision
In his written decision, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of
degenerative disc disease, depression, and anxiety. (Tr. 19). Notwithstanding, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled
the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 20-21). During the administrative hearing, the
ALJ asked the VE to consider a hypothetical person who was:
[c]laimant’s age, experience and education and the past jobs you’ve described.
[A]ssume less than the light range of exertion with frequent climbing ramps and
stairs, never climbing ropes, ladders, and scaffold, frequent balance, occasional
stooping, occasional kneeling and crouching and crawling, and with the mental
limitations of limited to performing simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, but no[t]
on a production rate pace, and limited to simple work related decisions in terms of
use of judgment and dealing with changes in the work setting.
(Tr. 68-69). The VE testified such an individual could not perform Plaintiff’s past relevant work.
(Tr. 69). On the other hand, the VE testified jobs existed in the national economy for such an
individual. Id. The VE testified that at the light level there were jobs as a house or office cleaner,
mail clerk, or sales attendant. (Tr. 69-70). In conjunction, the VE testified that at the sedentary
level there were jobs available as an addresser, charge account clerk, and a food and beverage
order clerk. (Tr. 71). The ALJ then asked the VE to modify the hypothetical to “add additional
restrictions of no overhead reaching and no right hand grip strength beyond eight pounds”. (Tr.
71). The VE responded that the same jobs previously listed would be available to such an
individual. (Tr. 72).
The ALJ found that between July 1, 2009 and April 9, 2013, Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity to perform light work, except while Plaintiff could frequently climb ramps and
stairs, he could never climb ropes, ladders, and scaffolds. (Tr. 22). Additionally, the ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff could frequently balance and occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. Id.
Furthermore, the ALJ stated that Plaintiff was limited to performing simple, routine, and repetitive
tasks but not at a production rate pace and was limited to simple work-related decisions in terms
of use of judgment and dealing with changes in the work setting. Id.
The ALJ also held that from April 10, 2013 through the DLI, Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity to perform sedentary work. (Tr. 24). He could frequently climb ramps and
stairs, but never climb ropes, ladders, scaffolds, or perform overhead reaching. Id. Plaintiff had no
right hand grip strength beyond eight pounds, and was limited to performing simple, routine, and
repetitive tasks but not at a production rate pace. Id. Plaintiff was limited to simple work-related
Accordingly, in conjunction with the VE testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff—from
July 1, 2009 through April 9, 2013—could perform light occupations such as a housekeeping
cleaner, mail clerk, and sales attendant. (Tr. 27). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff—from April
10, 2013 through his date last insured—could perform sedentary occupations such as an addresser,
charge account clerk, and food and beverage order clerk. Id. Thus, the ALJ held that Plaintiff was
not under a disability at any time from the alleged onset date, July 1, 2009, through the date last
insured, March 31, 2014. (Tr. 28).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
In reviewing the denial of Social Security benefits, the Court “must affirm the
Commissioner’s conclusions absent a determination that the Commissioner has failed to apply the
correct legal standards or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the
record.” Walters v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). “Substantial evidence
is more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance and is such relevant evidence as
a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Besaw v. Sec’y of Health &
Human Servs., 966 F.2d 1028, 1030 (6th Cir. 1992). The Commissioner’s findings “as to any fact
if supported by substantial evidence shall be conclusive.” McClanahan v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.,
474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). Therefore, even if substantial
evidence or a preponderance of the evidence supports a claimant’s position, the court cannot
overturn “so long as substantial evidence also supports the conclusion reached by the ALJ.” Jones
v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 477 (6th Cir. 2003).
STANDARD FOR DISABILITY
Eligibility for disability benefits is grounded upon the existence of a disability. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(a), 1382(a). Disability is defined as “the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by
reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to
result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less
than 12 months.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a); see also 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Commissioner
follows a five-step evaluation process to determine if a claimant is disabled:
1. Was claimant engaged in a substantial gainful activity?
2. Did claimant have a medically determinable impairment, or a combination of
impairments, that is “severe” which is defined as one which substantially limits
an individual’s ability to perform basic work activities?
3. Does the severe impairment meet one of the listed impairments?
4. What is claimant’s residual functional capacity and can claimant perform past
5. Can claimant do any other work considering his residual functional capacity,
age, education, and work experience?
Martinez v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 692 F. Supp. 2d 822, 825 (N.D. Ohio 2010); see also 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). Under this sequential analysis, the claimant has the burden of proof in
Steps One through Four. Walters, 127 F.3d at 529. The burden shifts to the Commissioner at Step
Five to establish whether the claimant has the RFC to perform available work in the national
economy. Id. The ALJ considers the claimant’s RFC, age, education, and past work experience to
determine if the claimant could perform other work. Id. Only if a claimant satisfies each element
of the analysis, including inability to do other work, and meets the duration requirements, is he
determined to be disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b)-(f); see also Walters, 127 F.3d at 529.
In this case, Plaintiff disputes the ALJ’s findings as to his residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). (Doc. 14, at 13-14). Specifically, Plaintiff contends the ALJ unreasonably assigned little
evidentiary weight to the opinion of nontreating VA psychologist Diane Johnson, and, therefore,
the ALJ’s RFC finding is not supported by substantial evidence. Id. at 11-13. Plaintiff asserts the
ALJ’s consideration of Dr. Johnson’s psychological opinion did not satisfy the procedural
requirements of 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c); analyzing at the factors, Plaintiff asserts that Dr.
Johnson’s opinion should be given more weight than the state psychologists’ opinions. Id. at 1213.
On the other hand, the Commissioner maintains that the ALJ reasonably discounted Dr.
Johnson’s opinion as inconsistent with the record. (Doc. 16, at 9). Furthermore, the Commissioner
asserts the ALJ properly considered the opinions of the state agency psychologists in the context
of the record as a whole. Id. at 8. Hence, the Commissioner reasons that based on the totality of
the evidence in the record, the ALJ’s findings as to Plaintiff’s RFC have substantial support in the
A claimant’s RFC “is the most [he] can still do despite [his] limitations.” 20 C.F.R. §
1545(a)(1). An ALJ will assess a claimant’s RFC “based on all of the relevant medical and other
evidence.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3). Moreover, when making a determination of a claimant’s
eligibility for DIB, “[t]he ALJ must consider all evidence in the record , including all objective
medical evidence, medical signs, and laboratory findings.” Gentry v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 741
F.3d 708, 722 (6th Cir. 2014); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(3). The ALJ has the responsibility of
weighing the evidence in the record and resolving conflicts within it. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 399 (1971).
ALJ’s Evaluation of Opinion Evidence
Medical opinions are evaluated under the factors set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c).
Gayheart v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 710 F.3d 365, 375 (6th Cir. 2013). Opinions from medical
sources who have examined claimants are given more weight than sources who have not performed
examinations (“nonexamining sources”). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(1). Opinions from medical
sources who regularly treat the claimants (“treating sources”) are afforded more weight than those
from sources who have examined the claimant but do not have an ongoing treatment relationship
(“nontreating sources”). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2). In conjunction, the ALJ considers the
supportability, consistency, and specialization of the physician. Blakley v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.,
581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir. 2009); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(3)-(6). “In other words, ‘the
regulations provide progressively more rigorous tests for weighing opinions as the ties between
the source of the opinion and the individual become weaker.’” Gayheart, 710 F.3d at 375 (quoting
Soc. Sec. Rul. No. 96—6p, 1996 WL 374180, at *2 (Soc. Sec. Admin. July 2, 1996)).
Although examining medical source opinions generally receive more weight than nonexamining sources, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(c)(1), “opinions from nontreating and nonexamining
sources are never assessed for ‘controlling weight.’” Gayheart, 710 F.3d at 376. “Any record
opinion, even that of a treating source, may be rejected by the ALJ when the source’s opinion is
not well supported by medical diagnostics or if it is inconsistent with the record.” Norris v. Comm’r
of Soc. Sec., 461 F. App’x 433, 439 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing Ealy v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 594 F.3d
504, 514 (6th Cir. 2010)). “Generally, the more consistent a medical opinion is with the record as
a whole, the more weight we will give to that medical opinion.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(c)(1); see
also Miller v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 811 F.3d 825, 837 (6th Cir. 2016) (ALJ’s reliance on a report
that was not consistent with the record as a whole was misplaced).
There are also other factors that an ALJ may consider in evaluating the credibility of a
claimant’s assertions. For example, an ALJ can consider the claimant’s response to medication
and daily activities. Walters, 127 F.3d at 531 (“The regulations indicate that if disabling severity
cannot be shown by objective medical evidence alone, the Commissioner will also consider other
factors, such as daily activities and the type and dosage of medication taken.”); see also 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1529(c)(3)(i) (factors include daily activities). Although Plaintiff’s response to medication
and daily activities are not dispositive as to whether or not a claimant can actually work,
Cunningham v. Astrue, 2008 WL 9463972, *14 (N.D. Ohio), they can either support or contradict
his allegations. Compare Felisky v. Bowen, 35 F.3d 1027, 1039 (6th Cir. 1994) (claimant’s daily
activities supported allegations regarding pain), with Cruse v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 502 F.3d 532,
544 (6th Cir. 2007) (claimant was able to perform a variety of daily activities which contradicted
her subjective complaints).
Opinion of Diane Johnson
Dr. Johnson’s report was compiled to assist the VA in processing Plaintiff’s claim for
disability benefits from the VA. (Tr. 920). Although Dr. Johnson noted that Plaintiff was depressed
and had a sad affect, he reportedly felt better than he did a year prior. (Tr. 923). She also observed
Plaintiff’s thoughts were goal-directed and logical, he maintained good eye contact, and had a
normal rate and tone of speech. Id. Dr. Johnson opined that Plaintiff exhibited “occupational and
social impairment with deficiencies in most areas, such as work, school, family relations,
judgment, thinking, and/or mood.” (Tr. 924).
Dr. Johnson’s initial opinion was augmented by an addendum dated May 31, 2013. (Tr.
928). She believed Plaintiff had “significant difficulties with interpersonal functioning.” Id. For
example, Dr. Johnson believed Plaintiff had moderate difficulties with social interaction and
maintaining effective work relationships. Id. In addition, she noted Plaintiff had marked difficulties
adapting to stressful situations and maintaining social relationships. Id. In contrast, Dr. Johnson
observed that Plaintiff’s thinking process was logical and would not hinder his social or vocational
functioning. Id. Nevertheless, she believed that Plaintiff’s difficulties with concentration,
attention, distractibility, inner turmoil, fatigue, and motivation would lead to periodic missed days
form work and moderate to serious reduction in occupational productivity. Id. She felt Plaintiff’s
ability to understand and follow instructions, and his short-term and long-term memory were
moderately impaired. (Tr. 929). She noted the same of his abilities to accept supervision and
criticism. Id. Furthermore, she found that his abilities to sustain concentration, interact, respond to
changes in the work place, and be flexible in the workplace were markedly impaired. Id.
The ALJ concluded that Dr. Johnson’s opinion had little evidentiary weight based on the
totality of the evidence. (Tr. 26). The ALJ noted that “[d]uring all relevant times herein, the
claimant was cooperative and pleasant . . . further, his memory and impulse control were intact.”
(Tr. 26). Moreover, in determining Plaintiff was not disabled, the ALJ considered his allegations
concerning trouble with memory, concentrating, completing tasks, and following instructions (Tr.
22), as well as the clinical findings (Tr. 23-26). For example, the ALJ observed records reflected
that Plaintiff was “sometimes anxious and depressed” (Tr. 23) (citing Tr. 333-572) (VA Clinic
treatment records), but at other times his mood and affect were normal and appropriate, and he
was routinely pleasant and cooperative (Tr. 23) (citing Tr. 254-94, 333-572). He noted Plaintiff
was consistently alert and oriented, exhibiting logical, relevant, and goal directed thought
processes. (Tr. 23) (citing Tr. 254-94, 333-572). Additionally, the ALJ considered the fact that
there was a gap in Plaintiff’s mental health treatment. (Tr. 23-24).
In conjunction, the ALJ considered other factors in evaluating Plaintiff’s claims, such as
the effectiveness of Plaintiff’s medication and his daily activities. Here, the ALJ noted that
Plaintiff’s anxiety and depression were controlled with medication. (Tr. 24) (citing Tr. 333-572).
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(c)(3)(iv) (effectiveness of any medication is a factor). The ALJ
commented that Plaintiff’s daily activities included caring for his children, exercising, doing
housework, grooming himself, cooking for himself and his family, riding his motorcycle, and
working in his garage. (Tr. 20, 23, 24) (citing Tr. 63-65, 214-218, 421, 639-40, 792-93, 803, 805,
809, 811, 816, 817, 822, 868).
The medical evidence provides substantial support for the ALJ’s conclusion to afford little
weight to Dr. Johnson’s opinion. Ms. Woodard’s psychological evaluations of Plaintiff show that
although Plaintiff sometimes reported he was depressed, at other times his mood and affect were
normal and appropriate, he was routinely pleasant, cooperative, alert, oriented, with logical,
relevant, and had goal oriented thought processes. (Tr. 357, 365-68, 375, 383, 394, 400, 406, 415,
421, 433-34, 478, 494, 503-05, 513-14, 629-30, 634-35, 641-42, 651, 693, 702, 768, 775, 781,
788, 795, 806, 812, 818-19, 821-23). The record also supports the ALJ’s determination that
Plaintiff’s anxiety and depression were effectively controlled with medication. (Tr. 376, 412, 415,
481, 433, 435, 450, 476, 478, 494). Thus, contrary to Plaintiff’s assertions, the ALJ’s analysis of
Dr. Johnson’s opinion satisfies the procedural requirements of 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c); the ALJ
considered the consistency of Dr. Johnson’s opinion with the record. (Tr. 26). 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(4) (An ALJ may discount a medical source opinion if it is inconsistent with other
substantial evidence). See also Blankenship v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 624 F. App’x 419, 428 (6th
Cir. 2015) (“The more consistent an opinion is with the record as a whole, the more weight we
will give to that opinion.”).
Upon a review of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the weight the ALJ afforded
Dr. Johnson’s opinion is supported by substantial evidence.
State Psychologists’ Opinions
Relatedly, Plaintiff challenges the ALJ’s evaluation of the opinions of the state agency
psychologists. (Doc. 14, at 13). The ALJ found that the state agency psychologists’ opinions were
entitled to substantial weight. (Tr. 25). According to Plaintiff, Drs. Rudy and Steiger did not
consider the entire record because they did not have Dr. Johnson’s report. (Doc. 14, at 13). Hence,
Plaintiff posits that the state agency psychologists’ opinions are not supported by the record as a
The regulations require ALJs to “‘consider findings of state agency medical and
psychological consultants,’ but ALJs ‘are not bound by any findings made by state agency medical
or psychological consultants.’” Renfro v. Barnhart, 30 F. App’x 431, 436 (6th Cir. 2002) (quoting
20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(f)(2)(i)). Nonetheless, “the opinions of non-examining state agency medical
consultants have some value and can, under some circumstances, be given significant weight.”
Douglas v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 832 F. Supp. 2d 813, 823-24 (S.D. Ohio 2011). Furthermore,
ALJs view state agency consultants as “highly qualified physicians and psychologists who are
experts in the evaluation of the medical issues in disability claims under the Social Security Act.”
Miller, 811 F.3d at 834 (citing SSR 96-6p, 1996 WL 374180, at *2 (July 2, 1996)); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(e)(2)(i). “[O]pinions of one-time examining physicians and record-reviewing physicians
are weighed under the same factors as treating physicians including supportability, consistency,
and specialization.” Douglas, 832 F. Supp. 2d at 823-24.
State agency psychologist Leslie Rudy, Ph.D., reviewed Plaintiff’s records on September
3, 2013. (Tr. 84-89). Dr. Rudy concluded that Plaintiff was capable of performing tasks without
strict quotas or fast-paced demands. (Tr. 88). She found that that Plaintiff could carry out detailed
instructions, sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision, and make simple work-related
decision. Id. Dr. Rudy was also of the opinion that Plaintiff could work in coordination with or in
proximity to others without being distracted by them. Id. As to Plaintiff’s abilities to maintain
concentration for extended periods of time, perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular
attendance, and be punctual, Dr. Rudy stated that they were only moderately limited. Id. Dr. Karen
Steiger, another state agency psychologist, agreed with Dr. Rudy’s evaluation. (Tr. 98-103).
Plaintiff is correct to note that the state agency psychologists did not have the entire record
before them; however, the ALJ did have the complete record before him which he discussed in his
opinion. An ALJ may rely on the opinion of a state agency reviewer who did not review the entire
record, so as long as the ALJ also considers the evidence post-dating the opinion. See McGrew v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 343 F. App’x 26, 32 (6th Cir. 2009); Ruby v. Colvin, 2015 WL 1000672, *4
(S.D. Ohio) (“[S]o long as an ALJ considers additional evidence occurring after a state agency
physician’s opinion, he has not abused his discretion.”).The ALJ reviewed the record as a whole,
including Dr. Johnson’s report and evidence submitted after the state agency psychologists’
opinions. (Tr. 20-26). The ALJ utilized his discretion in choosing to afford significant weight to
both state agency reviewers’ opinions. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d); Douglas, 831 F. Supp. 2d at 82324; SSR 96—6p at *2-3. As a result, the undersigned finds that the foregoing constitutes substantial
The ALJ considered Dr. Johnson’s opinion in light of the entire record and reasonably
discounted it. (supra) (Tr. 19-26). In addition, the ALJ reasonably gave the state psychologists’
opinions significant weight. (Tr. 25). The ALJ did not commit an error by limiting the weight of
Dr. Johnson’s opinion and according more weight to the state agency psychologists. It is well
within an ALJ’s purview to evaluate the consistency of opinions with the record as a whole. Ealy,
594 F.3d at 514 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)).
Even if the Court were to consider the evidence as Plaintiff contends, substantial evidence
exists to support the findings made by the ALJ and thus the Court will not overturn them. Jones,
336 F.3d at 477. “The findings of the Commissioner are not subject to reversal merely because
there exists in the record substantial evidence to support a different conclusion . . . this is so because
there is a zone of choice within which the Commissioner can act, without the fear of court
interference.” McClanahan, 474 F.3d at 833 (quoting Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th
Following review of the arguments presented, the record, and the applicable law, the
undersigned finds the Commissioner’s decision denying DIB is supported by substantial evidence,
and therefore the Commissioner’s decision is affirmed.
s/James R. Knepp, II
United States Magistrate Judge
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