Howlett v. Commissioner of Social Security
Memorandum Opinion and Order Adopting 16 Report and Recommendation to affirm the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's claim. Judge Christopher A. Boyko on 6/22/2017. (R,D)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
NEAL T. HOWLETT,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
CASE NO. 5:16CV1245
JUDGE CHRISTOPHER A. BOYKO
OPINION AND ORDER
CHRISTOPHER A. BOYKO, J.:
This matter comes before the Court upon Plaintiff’s Objections (ECF DKT #17) to
the Report and Recommendation (ECF DKT #16) of Magistrate Judge Jonathan D.
Greenberg, who recommends that the Court affirm the Commissioner’s decision denying
Plaintiff’s Claim for Period of Disability (“POD”) and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”)
under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423, 1381 et seq.
(“Act”). For the following reasons, the Court ADOPTS Magistrate Judge Greenberg’s
Report and Recommendation and AFFIRMS the Commissioner’s denial of Plaintiff’s
The following is a factual synopsis of Plaintiff’s claims. The Magistrate Judge’s
Report and Recommendation provides a more complete and detailed discussion of the
facts. For a complete overview of Plaintiff’s medical history, see Magistrate Judge
Greenberg’s Report and Recommendation, which refers to the original Complaint and
incorporates all documents in relation to the dispute.
On February 26, 2007, Plaintiff filed an Application for DIB and Supplemental
Security Income. An administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing and on January 29,
2010, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. After the Appeals Council denied review,
Plaintiff sought review in U.S. District Court and on September 28, 2012, the decision of
the Commissioner was affirmed. On October 16, 2012, Plaintiff filed additional
applications for POD and DIB alleging a disability onset date of January 30, 2010. The
applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Thereafter, Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an ALJ. On October 23, 2014, an ALJ held a hearing during
which Plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert (“VE”), testified. On October 29, 2014,
the ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. The ALJ’ s decision
became final on March 24, 2016, when the Appeals Council declined further review.
On May, 24, 2016, Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint challenging the
Commissioner’s final decision and asserted a single assignment of error: whether the ALJ
failed to give appropriate weight to the opinion of Plaintiff’s treating physician, Heather
Queen-Williams, M.D. On April 6, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued his Report and
Recommendation. On April 19, 2017, Plaintiff filed his Objection to Report and
Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge. On May 3, 2017, Defendant a filed Response
to Plaintiff’s Objections.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A district court's review of a final administrative decision of the Commissioner
made by an ALJ in a Social Security action is not de novo. Norman v. Astrue, 694
F.Supp.2d 738, 740 (N.D. Ohio 2010) report adopted by 2011 WL 233697 (N.D. Ohio
2011). Rather, a district court is limited to examining the entire administrative record to
determine if the ALJ applied the correct legal standards in reaching his decision and if
there is substantial evidence in the record to support his findings. Id. (citing Longworth v.
Commissioner of Social Security, 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005)). “Substantial
evidence” is evidence that a reasonable mind would accept to support a conclusion. Id.
(See Richardson v. Perales, 91 S. Ct. 1420, 1427 (1971)).
LAW AND ANALYSIS
Under the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423(a), eligibility for benefit payments depends on the
existence of a disability. “Disability” is defined as the “inability to engage in 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.” 42 U.S.C. §
The ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in
20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
The ALJ further found that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in the Social
Security Act, at any time from January 30, 2010, the alleged onset date, through
December 31, 2012, the date last insured (20 CFR 404.1520(g)).
Here, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by failing to give appropriate weight to
Plaintiff’s treating physician, Dr. Queen-Williams. The Magistrate Judge points out that a
treating source opinion must be given “controlling weight” if such opinion (1) “is
well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques” and
(2) “is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the] case record.” Meece v.
Barnhart, 2006 WL 2271336 at * 4 (6th Cir. Aug. 8, 2006); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2). If
the ALJ determines a treating source opinion is not entitled to controlling weight,
“the ALJ must provide ‘good reasons’ for discounting [the opinion], reasons that are
‘sufficiently specific to make clear to any subsequent reviewers the weight the adjudicator
gave to the treating source’s medical opinion and the reasons for that weight.’” Rogers v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 242 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting Soc. Sec. Ruling 96-2p,
1996 SSR LEXIS 9 at * 5). See also Gayheart, 710 F.3d at 376. The Magistrate Judge
determined that the ALJ provided good reasons for affording Dr. Queen-Williams’ opinion
less than controlling weight because the Doctor’s opinion was inconsistent with the
substantial evidence in the record as well as her office treatment notes.
In the Report and Recommendation the Magistrate Judge shows that the doctor
routinely noted that Plaintiff’s appearance was appropriate; his activity and eye contact
was normal; his demeanor was spontaneous and pleasant; his level of consciousness
was alert; his judgment was fair and his insight was good, as well as other favorable
evaluations. The doctor noted in a mental impairment questionnaire that Plaintiff had mild
restrictions in daily living activities, marked difficulties in social functioning and difficulties
in concentration, persistence or pace. However, as the ALJ noted, Plaintiff was able to
engage in numerous social activities outside the home, attend group yoga classes three
times a week, do odd jobs for pay, work part-time four days a week as a handy man at a
daycare center, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, interact daily by text message with
former co-workers, a cousin, his parents and friends, visit his parents several times a
week, visit a friend who owns a record store and another friend who owns a restaurant,
visit the judge from mental health court and go to school.
The ALJ thoroughly described this evidence in the opinion and reasonably
concluded that Dr. Queen-Williams’ opinion that Plaintiff had marked or extreme
difficulties in functioning is not borne from the record. The Magistrate Judge agreed that
there were apparent inconsistencies between Plaintiff’s claim that he suffered from
extreme psychological impairment but no restrictions from social or daily living activities.
The ALJ reasonably determined that Plaintiff’s social functioning is regular and consistent.
The opinion of a treating physician must be based on sufficient medical data and
upon detailed clinical and diagnostic test evidence. See Harris v. Heckler, 756 F.2d
431, 435 (6th Cir. 1985); Bogle v. Sullivan, 998 F.2d 342, 347-48 (6th Cir. 1993).
However, the ALJ is not bound by conclusory statements of a treating physician that a
claimant is disabled, but may reject such determinations when good reasons are
identified for not accepting them. King v. Heckler, 742 F.2d 968, 973 (6th Cir. 1984);
Duncan v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 801 F.2d 847, 855 (6th Cir. 1986);
Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 391 (6th Cir. 1984).
The Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge that Dr. Queen-Williams’ opinion is
inconsistent with her treatment notes and the ALJ’s conclusion was reasonable. The ALJ
adequately explained the reasoning behind the decision. It is clear that the ALJ had
sufficient reasons for concluding that Dr. Queen-Williams’ opinion was lacking in
Based upon the foregoing analysis, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s Objections are
without merit and the Commissioner’s decision denying Plaintiff’s Application for Period of
Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits is supported by substantial evidence.
Therefore, the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation (ECF DKT #16) is
ADOPTED and the Commissioner’s denial of Plaintiff’s Claim is AFFIRMED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/Christopher A. Boyko
CHRISTOPHER A. BOYKO
United States District Judge
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