Fiori v. Commissioner of Social Security
Memorandum Opinion and Order that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and the final decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. Signed by Magistrate Judge Kenneth S. McHargh on 9/16/15. (M,De)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
TAMMARA LYNN FIORI,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
CASE NO. 5:14-CV-1159
KENNETH S. McHARGH
MEMORANDUM OPINION &
This case is before the Magistrate Judge pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc.
15). The issue before the undersigned is whether the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff Tammara Fiori’s (“Plaintiff” or “Fiori”)
application for a Period of Disability and Disability Insurance benefits under Title II of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423, is supported by substantial evidence and,
For the reasons set forth below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner’s decision.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On April 13, 2011, Fiori filed an application for Disability Insurance benefits,
alleging a period of disability beginning February 15, 2010. (Tr. 71, 189-90). Plaintiff
claimed that she was disabled due to seizures, depression, fall risk and arthritis. (Tr. 212).
The Social Security Administration denied her claims initially and upon reconsideration.
Plaintiff filed a request for a review before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Tr.
122). ALJ James A. Hill convened an administrative hearing on November 21, 2012, to
evaluate Plaintiff’s applications. (Tr. 33-69). Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared
and testified before the ALJ. (Id). A vocational expert (“VE”), Gene Burkhammer, also
appeared and testified. (Id.).
On December 12, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, finding Plaintiff was
not disabled. (Tr. 15-27).
After applying the five-step sequential analysis,1 the ALJ
determined Plaintiff retained the ability to perform work existing in significant numbers in
the national economy. (Id.). Subsequently, Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ’s decision
from the Appeals Council. (Tr. 1-6). The Appeals Council denied the request for review,
The Social Security Administration regulations require an ALJ to follow a five-step sequential analysis
in making a determination as to “disability.” See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). The Sixth Circuit
has summarized the five steps as follows:
If a claimant is doing substantial gainful activity–i.e., working for profit–she is not
If a claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity, her impairment must be severe
before she can be found to be disabled.
If a claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity and is suffering from a severe
impairment that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve
months, and her impairment meets or equals a listed impairment, claimant is presumed
disabled without further inquiry.
If a claimant’s impairment does not prevent her from doing her past relevant work, she is
Even if a claimant’s impairment does prevent her from doing her past relevant work, if
other work exists in the national economy that accommodates her residual functional
capacity and vocational factors (age, education, skills, etc.), she is not disabled.
Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990); Heston v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534
(6th Cir. 2001).
making the ALJ’s December 12, 2012 determination the final decision of the Commissioner.
(Id.). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ’s final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g) and 1383(c).
A. Personal Background Information
Plaintiff was born on April 8, 1962, and was 47-years-old as of her alleged disability
onset date and 50-years-old as of her hearing date. (Tr. 26, 39-40). As a result, she was
considered a “person closely approaching advanced age” as of the hearing date for Social
Security purposes. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(d), 416.963(d). Plaintiff lives with her husband,
occasionally babysits her grandchildren, has a ninth grade education and has past relevant
work experience as a café manager and cook. (Tr. 25, 40, 49-52, 578).
B. Medical Evidence
1. Physical Impairments
Plaintiff was hospitalized for dizziness and ataxic secondary to Dilantin toxicity on
November 14, 2010, with a medical history of seizures. (Tr. 346-347). A stroke workup
was performed, including a CT and CTA of the brain, an echocardiogram, and an MRI/MRA
of the brain, all with normal findings. (Tr. 338-339, 346-347). Records from a follow-up
examination on December 27, 2010, documented Plaintiff as having a seizure disorder (Tr.
338-340). Despite reports of a history of seizures in the record, including Plaintiff’s selfreports, Plaintiff had no verifiable seizures during the year prior to July 2, 2010, and there
is no record of any since that date. (Tr. 338-340, 510, 513). Plaintiff takes prescription
medications for her seizures and underwent therapy for two weeks at a nursing facility for
her ataxia following the hospital stay, but discontinued therapy upon release from the
nursing facility. (Tr. 338-39, 510).
Plaintiff had ongoing treatment records for complaints of pain. On March 19, 2010,
Plaintiff presented to Dr. Sandra Beichler, with complaints of pain in her left buttock and
tail bone. (Tr. 515). Examination revealed contusions on her left buttock, and no pain to
palpitation on her spine or hip. (Id.) Following her fall on April 8, 2010, at which time
Plaintiff complained of hurting everywhere, an x-ray demonstrated degenerative changes
in Plaintiff’s lumbosacral spine, and Plaintiff was diagnosed with exacerbation of chronic
low back pain. (Tr. 408). Dr. Beichler’s records documented right groin pain that radiates
down Plaintiff’s leg, for which Plaintiff was prescribed pain medication. (Tr. 14).
On October 27, 2010, Plaintiff presented at the emergency room with complaints of
suffering right hip pain for 3 months, and hearing loss. (Tr. 405). Examination notes
showed slightly limited motor strength secondary to pain, active range of motion in all
extremities, with full range of motion in her right hip, but with complaints of pain, and mild
tenderness in trochanter and groin area. (Tr. 405-06). X-ray at this time revealed “a little
bit of arthritis and degenerative joint disease.” (Tr. 406).
On November 2, 2010, Plaintiff returned to Dr. Beichler, with complaints of right
groin and leg pain for a year. (Tr. 511). Plaintiff was again examined by Dr. Beichler on
December 16, 2010. Examination records indicated that Plaintiff sometimes stumbled due
to her right leg, and suffered from low back tenderness and pain that radiated down her
right leg. (Tr. 510). Dr. Beichler’s notes indicated Plaintiff’s balance and walking abilities
improved following two weeks in a nursing facility, but that Plaintiff still required a walker.
(Tr. 510). On December 29, 2010, a lumbar spine MRI revealed mild degenerative disc
disease. (Tr. 509).
Plaintiff again went to Dr. Beichler on January 18 and March 31, 2011, complaining
of back pain. (Tr. 506-07). Notes from the January 18th appointment indicated Plaintiff got
a job waiting tables but had to quit after one day. (Tr. 507). Records indicated that plaintiff
had an ineffective epidural close in proximity to her March 31st appointment, and that she
consistently contacted Dr. Beichler for pain medication prescriptions. (Tr. 505-508).
Plaintiff saw Dr. Vincent Wake, an orthopedic surgeon, in early 2011 for back,
inguinal, and leg pain. (Tr. 526-28). Dr. Wake’s notes documented Plaintiff’s complaints of
pain, and showed minimal to normal findings on examination, specifically normal strength
in her lower left extremity, strength at four out of five in her lower right extremity, normal
sensation and reflexes, and negative straight leg raises. (Tr. 527). Plaintiff was diagnosed
with lumbar degenerative disease and spondylosis, low back pain, and right lower
extremity radiculitis (Id.). Additionally, Dr. Wake recommended a conservative care plan
over surgery, including pain medication and physical therapy. (Id.). Records from a followup visit on March 17, 2011 showed similar findings, and Dr. Wake noted doubts that
surgery would be effective. (Tr. 557). At this time Plaintiff was prescribed epidural steroid
injections and muscle relaxants. (Id.). Similar findings were again documented for her
April 28, 2011 examination, at which time Plaintiff told Dr. Wake she had undergone only
one course of epidural steroid injections, which was not effective. (Tr. 547).
On November 1, 2012, Plaintiff saw another orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Robert
Erickson, II, for low back pain, including pain in her lower left extremity and numbness in
both feet. (Tr. 674). Dr. Erickson reviewed a lumbar spine x-ray performed September 9,
2012, and found lumbar or lumbrosacral degenerative disc, lumbar spondylolisthesis, and
osteoarthritis hip, on Plaintiff’s right side. (Tr. 677). Notes further included observation of
a moderately antalgic gait, and mild to normal musculoskeletal findings on examination.
(Tr. 676). Dr. Erickson prescribed Vicodin, and recommended an activity modification plan
that included home exercise and a back corset. (Tr. 677).
The record shows Plaintiff has alcohol dependence in full, sustained remission. (Tr.
17). Plaintiff has been sober for 15 years following rehabilitation, with a relapse on April 8,
2010, at which point Plaintiff was treated for a fall down the stairs while intoxicated. (Tr.
407, 578). Although the April 8th doctor’s notes stated Plaintiff drinks “on occasion,” the
record does not indicate significant relapses. (Tr. 407).
Plaintiff also has the following conditions: otitis media, degenerative changes of the
left wrist, hypercholesterolemia/hyperlipidemia, and hypertension.
(Tr. 17, 396).
Diagnosed with hypertension in November 2014, records showed Plaintiff’s blood pressure
to consistently register at around, or less than, a systolic blood pressure of 144 mm/Hg,
and a diastolic blood pressure at, or less than, 90 mm/Hg. (Tr. 340, 514, 645, 650, 654). A
blood chemistry panel on March 9, 2007, showed hypercholesterolemia/hyperlipidemia,
which was treated with medication. (Tr. 376-77). On November 8, 2012, Dr. Beichler noted
her cholesterol to be “just a little high.” (Tr. 647).
Medical records show Plaintiff was treated for degenerative changes of the left
wrist, as well as otitis media and ataxia. (Tr. 18). Dr. Beichler diagnosed otitis media upon
examination on November 2, 2010, and was again treated for a ringing in her ear in
December 27, 2010. (Tr. 338, 511). Ataxia was reported in her medical records on
December 14, 2010, but attributed to Dilatin toxicity, and again on December 27, 2010,
described as a “slight loss of balance.” (Tr. 6-7, 347). An x-ray of Plaintiff’s left wrist was
performed on October 19, 2006, that showed moderate degenerative changes. (Tr. 487). A
subsequent x-ray, performed on April 9, 2010, reported normal findings. (Tr. 468).
2. Mental Impairments
Treatment records indicated Dr. Beichler, Plaintiff’s primary care physician,
continually prescribed antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication for Plaintiff from
August 26, 2008 onward. (Tr. 516-522). Plaintiff underwent a psychiatric evaluation by
psychiatrist Samina Zaidi on November 3, 2011, with self-reports of isolation, panic attacks
and anxiety, progressing over six months. (Tr. 695-96). Evaluation notes indicated a
history of alcoholism, now sober but with periodic relapse, and a history of sexual and
physical abuse. (Id.). Plaintiff was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder with
depression, generalized anxiety disorder, dysthymia and alcohol abuse, with a GAF score of
40. (Tr. 698). Medications for these conditions were prescribed and continued. (Id.). The
record indicates Plaintiff attended outpatient counseling between November 2011 and
September 2012, with treatment records showing diagnoses of major depressive disorder,
post-traumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. (Tr. 702-705). Records
indicated episodes of high anxiety and poor spirits, but no evidence of suicidality,
homicidality, or psychosis, and that Plaintiff is generally cognitively intact. (Id.).
3. Dr. Beichler’s Opinion Evidence
Dr. Beichler submitted opinions as to Plaintiff’s functional limitations based on her
treatment of Plaintiff since 2008. Her opinion dated September 8, 2011, stated Plaintiff has
environmental limitations such as to require avoidance of dust, hazards, and fumes, odors,
and chemical gases. (Tr. 595). According to this report, Plaintiff has no manipulative
limitations, but can never climb or crouch, can occasionally balance, kneel, or stoop, and
can frequently crawl. (Tr. 593-94). The report also indicated Plaintiff can lift up to 10
pounds, and can stand or walk 2 hours in an 8 hour workday, but requires a sit/stand
option. (Tr. 592-93). Support for her opinion included statement that Plaintiff needs
extended time to do laundry, that she can walk half-way around the block, and that her
back pain frequently affects her daily living skills. (Tr. 593).
Dr. Beichler also submitted an opinion as to Plaintiff’s mental limitations. (Tr. 58587). Her opinion dated August 9, 2011, stated Plaintiff has marked limitations regarding
interaction with co-workers, supervisors, and the public, including her ability to respond
appropriately to usual work situations. (Tr. 585-86). Additionally, Dr. Beichler opined that
Plaintiff has extreme limitations in her ability to make judgments on complex work-related
decisions, marked limitations relating to complex instructions, and moderate limitations
relating to simple instructions and work-related decisions. (Tr. 589). Dr. Beichler states in
her assessment that Plaintiff is unable to work. (Tr. 591). Support for her opinion includes
statements that Plaintiff would not interact with supervisors or co-workers, but would
rather “just sit there or start crying,” and that she would often have to go to the emergency
room due to her panic disorder. (Tr. 586).
C. State Agency Evaluations and Opinion Evidence
Opinion evidence was submitted by state agency medical consultants Uma Gupta,
M.D., and Diane Manos, M.D., based on examination of Plaintiff’s medical records. (Tr. 8486, 93-96). Both doctors determined Plaintiff could perform work at the light exertional
level, could frequently climb ramps and stairs, kneel, could occasionally stoop, crouch and
crawl, and should avoid exposure to workplace hazards. (Id.). Neither Dr. Gupta nor Dr.
Manos personally evaluated Plaintiff.
State agency medical consultants Caroline Lewin, Ph.D. and Cynthia Waggoner,
Psy.D., submitted opinions as to Plaintiff’s mental abilities, based on examination of
Plaintiff’s records. Dr. Lewin and Dr. Waggoner opined that Plaintiff could perform simple,
routine tasks, with no production quotas, in a static work environment. (Tr. 83-84, 96-98).
Further, Plaintiff should have no more than occasional contact with co-workers and
supervisors. (Id.). Neither Dr. Lewin nor Dr. Waggoner personally evaluated Plaintiff.
Plaintiff underwent a state agency examination to determine her mental status on
June 22, 2011, performed by Michael J. Harven, Ph.D. Dr. Harven interviewed Plaintiff and
included a great deal of Plaintiff’s own statements in his report.
Examination notes indicated Plaintiff was adequately dressed and groomed, was
cooperative, exhibited normal speech and logical thought process, but with low average
intelligence, and received an overall GAF score of 50. (Id.). Plaintiff displayed moderate
anxiety and depression, symptoms of which are related to childhood sexual abuse, with a
full range of affect, and reported fleeting suicidal ideation with no plan. (Id.). Dr. Harven
noted Plaintiff had very limited treatment for mental health issues, and does not have a
need for a high level of mental health care. (Tr. 581-82).
In his functional assessment of Plaintiff, based on his June 22nd interview, Dr.
Harven determined Plaintiff has mild to moderate limitations in memory that may cause
some difficulty remembering in order to carry out job instructions.
exhibited a normal pace of performance and exhibited anxiety during her evaluation, and
had difficulty focusing and performing basic arithmetic problems. (Id.). Dr. Harven opined
that she would have no difficulty responding appropriately to supervision and co-workers,
but noted that she is driven by her posttraumatic stress disorder to avoid contact with the
outside world, which she perceives as unsafe, and would likely have difficulty responding
appropriately to work pressures. (Tr. 582-83).
III. SUMMARY OF THE ALJ’S DECISION
The ALJ made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:
1. The claimant met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act (the
“Act”) through December 31, 2014.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 15, 2010,
the alleged onset date.
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: seizure disorder, degenerative
disc disease of the lumbar spine, with lumbar foraminal stenosis, degenerative
changes of the right hip, post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder,
and generalized anxiety disorder.
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the
claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. 404.1567(b) except that the claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds
and must avoid hazards such as dangerous machinery and unprotected heights. She
cannot drive commercially. The claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch and crawl. She can understand, remember and carry out simple instructions
and perform simple, routine tasks. She requires a relatively static low stress
workplace, without more than occasional changes in work setting or work processes
and without strict quotas or fast-paced high production demands. The claimant is
limited to infrequent superficial contact with the public and occasional, superficial
contact with co-workers.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work.
7. The claimant was born on April 8, 1962 and was 47 years old, which is defined as a
younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date. The claimant
subsequently changed age category to closely approaching advanced age.
8. The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English.
9. Transferability of job skills in not material to the determination of disability because
using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the
claimant is “not disabled,” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills.
10. Considering the claimant’s age, education, work experience, and residual functional
capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can performed.
11. The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any
time from February 15, 2010, through the date of this decision.
(Tr. 17-27) (internal citations omitted).
IV. DISABILITY STANDARD
A claimant is entitled to receive Disability Insurance and/or Supplemental Security
Income benefits only when she establishes disability within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423, 1381. A claimant is considered disabled when she
cannot perform “substantial gainful employment by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or
can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve (12) months.” See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1505, 416.905.
V. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Judicial review of the Commissioner’s benefits decision is limited to a determination
of whether, based on the record as a whole, the Commissioner’s decision is supported by
substantial evidence, and whether, in making that decision, the Commissioner employed
the proper legal standards. See Cunningham v. Apfel, 12 F. App’x 361, 362 (6th Cir. 2001);
Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389,
401 (1971). “Substantial evidence” has been defined as more than a scintilla of evidence
but less than a preponderance of the evidence. See Kirk v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs.,
667 F.2d 524, 535 (6th Cir. 1981). Thus, if the record evidence is of such a nature that a
reasonable mind might accept it as adequate support for the Commissioner’s final benefits
determination, then that determination must be affirmed. Id.
The Commissioner’s determination must stand if supported by substantial evidence,
regardless of whether this Court would resolve the issues of fact in dispute differently or
substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion. See Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d
535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986); Kinsella v. Schweiker, 708 F.2d 1058, 1059 (6th Cir. 1983). This
Court may not try the case de novo, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or decide questions of
credibility. See Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). However, it may
examine all the evidence in the record in making its decision, regardless of whether such
evidence was cited in the Commissioner’s final decision. See Walker v. Sec’y of Health &
Human Servs., 884 F.2d 241, 245 (6th Cir. 1989).
Plaintiff seeks review from the Court based on the following allegations: (1) the ALJ
erred in determining the Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity by failing to assign
controlling weight to the opinions of Plaintiff’s treating physician, Dr. Beicher; (2) that a
proper assignment of controlling weight to Dr. Beichler would have recognized a limitation
to sedentary work, thereby resulting in a favorable decision pursuant to 20 C.F.R., Pt. 404,
Subpt. P, App. 2, Rule 201.10; (3) the ALJ erred by failing to consider Ms. Fiori’s strong
work history in his credibility finding; and (4) the ALJ erred in determining the Plaintiff’s
mental RFC by improperly discrediting a portion of the SSA’s examining psychological
expert’s opinion. Based on the following analysis, Plaintiff’s arguments are not well-taken.
A. The ALJ properly adhered to the Treating Source Rule when he afforded “little
weight” to the opinions of Plaintiff’s treating physician.
It is well-established that an ALJ must give special attention to the findings of a
claimant’s treating sources. Wilson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004).
This doctrine, referred to as the “Treating Source Rule” recognizes that physicians who
have a long-standing relationship with an individual are best-equipped to provide a
complete picture of the person’s health and treatment history.
Id; 20 C.F.R. §
416.927(c)(2). Opinions from such physicians are entitled to controlling weight only if the
opinion is (1) “well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques” and (2) “not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in the case
record.” Wilson, 378 F.3d at 544.
When determining that a treating physician’s opinion is not entitled to controlling
weight, the ALJ must consider the following factors in deciding what weight is appropriate:
(1) the length of the treatment relationship and the frequency of examination, (2) the
nature and extent of the treatment relationship, (3) supportability of the opinion, (4)
consistency of the opinion with the record as a whole, (5) the specialization of the treating
source, and (6) any other factors which tend to support or contradict the opinion. Id. 20
C.F.R. §§ 416.927(c)(1)-(6), 404.1527(c)(1)-(6). Moreover, the regulations require the ALJ
to provide “good reasons” for the weight ultimately assigned to the treating source’s
opinions that are sufficiently specific to make clear to any subsequent reviewers the weight
given to the treating physician’s opinions and the reasons for that weight. See id. (quoting
S.S.R. 96-2p, 1996 WL 374188, at *5).
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by assigning little weight to the opinion of her
treating physician, Dr. Beichler, which she alleges is supported by evidence on the record.
However, the ALJ conducted a thorough analysis and adhered to the Treating Source Rule,
rendering Plaintiff’s argument meritless.
In the present case, the ALJ recognized Dr.
Beichler as a treating source, and thoroughly summarized the medical evidence on the
record, including Dr. Beichler’s medical notes and opinions from at least as early as March
19, 2010. (Tr. 21-25). The ALJ additionally considered treatment records from other
sources, including two orthopedic specialists and a pain management specialist, as well as
medical records from emergency room visits. (Tr. 403-411, 523-524, 527, 674-677).
Although Plaintiff points to a few medical records not cited by the ALJ, he is not required to
specifically cite to all the medical evidence on the records, and the ALJ nonetheless cites to
almost identical treatment records from the same doctors on different dates. (Tr. 22). The
Plaintiff asserts evidence in support of her position, but does not point to any evidence that
undercuts the ALJ’s analysis, which considered the record in its entirety.
The ALJ provided a number of good reasons supporting his conclusion that Dr.
Beichler’s opinions as to Plaintiff’s work limitations should be awarded only “little weight.”
Putting aside the appropriate rejection of Dr. Beichler’s legal conclusion that Plaintiff was
“unable to work” under S.S.R. 96-5p, 1996 WL 374183 (July 2, 1996), the ALJ points to
specific evidence on the record that contradicts her opinion that Plaintiff required a
sedentary level of exertion. (Tr. 24). First, the ALJ found the limitations inconsistent with
objective diagnostic studies, including mild to normal findings from a lumbar spine MRI
performed December 28, 2010, and right hip radiographs performed October 27, 2010. (Tr.
455, 461). The ALJ further found the limitations inconsistent with Plaintiff’s rare and
conservative treatment for her hip and back ailments, which included prescription
medication and an attempted epidural steroid injection, following physical examinations
that “consistently, albeit not universally” reported minimal or normal findings in strength,
sensation, reflexes and range of motion. (Tr. 232, 405-06, 461, 524, 527, 677). Finally, the
ALJ supported his allocation of little weight to Dr. Beichler’s opinions because he found Dr.
Beichler “permitted the substitution of the claimant’s judgment for her own, when she
based her opinion to some extent on Plaintiff’s self-reporting, pointing to her September 9,
2011 opinion that included, under medical and clinical findings, that Plaintiff needs to do
laundry over an extended period of time, that back pain frequently affects her daily living
skills, and that Plaintiff can only walk halfway around the block. (Tr. 24, 592-93). Despite
Plaintiff’s arguments to the contrary, the ALJ’s reasons are supported by substantial
evidence in the record and are sufficient to comply with the Treating Source Rule.
B. Plaintiff is not “disabled” as an individual “closely approaching advanced age” and
limited to sedentary work.
Because the ALJ appropriately determined that Plaintiff is limited to light work,
rather than sedentary work, as fully explained above, there is no basis for Plaintiff’s
contention that Plaintiff is entitled to a favorable decision under 20 C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P,
App. 2, Rule 201.10, which directs a finding of “disabled” for an individual “closely
approaching advanced age” and limited to sedentary work.
C. The ALJ did not err by failing to consider Plaintiff’s work history in his credibility
Plaintiff provides an unfounded allegation that the ALJ erred by failing to consider
Plaintiff’s work history in his credibility assessment. “An ALJ is not required to accept a
claimant's subjective complaints and may properly consider the credibility of a claimant
when making a determination of disability.” Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 476
(6th Cir. 2003). (citing Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525 (6th Cir. 1997)). The
ALJ's findings based on his determination of credibility shall be accorded great weight.
Walters, 127 F.3d at 531. The ALJ's assessment of credibility must be supported by
substantial evidence. Id. To determine credibility, the ALJ must consider the entire case
record. S.S.R. 96–7p, 1996 WL 374186, at *1 (July 2, 1996). The ALJ's credibility
determination must include clear reasons for the finding, and state specific reasons, from
evidence in the case record, for the assigned credibility weight. S.S.R. 96–7p, at *2; Felisky v.
Bowen, 35 F.3d 1027, 1036 (6th Cir.1994).
When evaluating symptoms, the ALJ shall consider information about the
individual's prior work record, statements about his symptoms, evidence submitted by
treating and non-treating sources, as well as observations by other individuals. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1529(c)(3). Further, in assessing credibility, the ALJ must consider factors including
the degree to which the individual's statements are consistent with the medical findings,
the individual's prior statements to the agency, and other information in the case record, as
consistency is a strong indicator of credibility. S.S.R. 96–7p, at *5. Fitzpatrick v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., No. 3:12-CV-1345, 2013 WL 3480372, at *6-7 (N.D. Ohio July 10, 2013).
Here, the ALJ’s credibility evaluation provides sufficiently specific reasons for
finding information given by Plaintiff as not wholly reliable. Looking at the record in its
entirety, the ALJ found Plaintiff’s allegations of physical and mental limitations were not
consistent with medical evidence and her reported abilities to conduct daily activities. (Tr.
23-24). The ALJ also pointed to contradictory evidence and statements on central issues of
Plaintiff’s claim, including (1) inconsistent testimony as to Plaintiff’s ability to leave her
home unaccompanied, (2) evidence of a lengthy employment history in skilled and
managerial positions despite Plaintiff’s testimony that she could not read or write well, or
manage her own finances, and (3) conflicting reports of pain. (Tr. 24).
Plaintiff makes no objections to the ALJ’s credibility analysis beyond her assertion
that he improperly failed to consider Plaintiff’s “strong work history” in his analysis. This
assertion is incorrect, as the ALJ points out in his credibility analysis that the “record
indicates that the claimant had lengthy employment in skilled positions.” (Tr. 24). Beyond
this, it is not necessary that an ALJ discuss every single factor in 20 C.F.R. 404.1529. See
Fitzpatrick, 2013 WL 3480372 at *8 (ALJ need not discuss every factor where a robust
discussion of factors supports the ALJ’s credibility determination). Accordingly, Plaintiff’s
argument that the ALJ erred by failing to consider Plaintiff’s work history in his assessment
of Plaintiff’s credibility is without merit.
The ALJ properly discredited a portion of the opinion of the SSA’s examining
psychological expert, and his mental RFC determination is supported by substantial
To determine a claimant’s RFC, the ALJ has the authority to weight the evidence,
including medical opinions considered together with the rest of the evidence, as he deems
appropriate. 20 C.F.R. 404.1527(b)-(c), (e). When evaluating opinions from non-treating
medical sources, an ALJ must consider the supportability and consistency of the opinion,
the specialization of the medical source, and any other factors that tend to support or
contradict the opinion. 20 C.F.R. 404.1527(c). The amount of weight given to a non-
treating source depends on the degree of relevant evidence and explanations in support of
his opinion. 20 C.F.R. 404.1527(c).
Plaintiff’s argument that the ALJ erred by discrediting the portion of Dr. Harvan’s
opinion concerning her ability to withstand stress is unsubstantiated. The ALJ provided
good reasons, supported by substantial evidence, for his allocation of considerable weight
to the opinion of Dr. Harvan. Plaintiff’s RFC largely encompasses the limitations expressed
by Dr. Harvan’s opinion, including a requirement for a “relatively static low stress
workplace, without more than occasional changes in work settings….” (Tr. 20, 25). So far
as the RFC is inconsistent with Dr. Harvan’s work stress limitations, the ALJ reasons that
Dr. Harvan only examined the Plaintiff on a single occasion, and that his work stress
opinion derived from Plaintiff’s own statements, rather than observed behavior. (Tr. 25,
583). This rationale is supported by Dr. Harvan’s report, which included a great deal of
self-reporting by the Plaintiff, and shows he based his work stress opinion entirely on
Plaintiff’s noted attempts to remain in her home and isolate herself from the outside world,
due to her post traumatic stress disorder. (Tr. 583). No objective evidence or direct
observations are offered in support of this portion of his opinion. (Id.).
Plaintiff’s arguments do not support her assertion that the ALJ erred in his analysis
of Dr. Harvan’s opinion or his overall determination of Plaintiff’s RFC. Plaintiff first points
to the opinion of Dr. Beichler, which was discredited by the ALJ, and thus provides meager
support for her claim. Beyond that, Plaintiff neglects to specify anything in the medical
opinions that would conclusively undermine the ALJ’s analysis of Dr. Harven’s opinion, or
the work stress limitation of the RFC. Additionally, despite a lengthy summary in her brief,
Plaintiff does not point to any additional evidence in support of her argument that was not
considered by the ALJ in his analysis. Much of the evidence presented in support of
Plaintiff’s argument, such as problems with memory and an inability to follow directions
and do simple arithmetic, has little to no significance as to her ability to withstand work
stress. The ALJ properly weighed the evidence, including the opinion of Dr. Harvan, in
formulating Plaintiff’s RFC, which is supported by substantial evidence.
Plaintiff’s argument is rejected.
For the foregoing reasons, the Magistrate Judge finds that the decision of the
Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the final decision of the
Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/ Kenneth S. McHargh
Kenneth S. McHargh
United States Magistrate Judge
Date: September 16, 2015
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?