Artmayer v. Commissioner of Social Security
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION: Magistrate Judge RECOMMENDS Plaintiff's Statement of Errors be OVERRULED and that judgment be entered in favor of Defendant. Objections to R&R due by 9/7/2017. Signed by Magistrate Judge Kimberly A. Jolson on 8/23/2017. (ew)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
WHITNEY L. ARTMAYER,
Civil Action 2:16-cv-1070
Chief Judge Edmund A. Sargus, Jr.
Magistrate Judge Jolson
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Plaintiff, Whitney L. Artmayer, filed this action seeking review of a decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her Title II Disability Insurance
For the reasons that follow, it is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff’s
Statement of Errors be OVERRULED, and that judgment be entered in favor of Defendant.
A. Prior Proceedings
Plaintiff filed for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) on March 17, 2014, alleging a
disability onset date of February 21, 2014. (See Doc. 9-3, Tr. 97, PAGEID #: 147). Her
application was denied initially on June 23, 2014 (Doc. 9-4, Tr. 127, PAGEID #: 178), and upon
reconsideration on November 14, 2014 (id., Tr. 134, PAGEID #: 185). Administrative Law
Judge Timothy G. Keller (the “ALJ”) held a hearing on June 2, 2016 (Doc. 9-2, Tr. 40, PAGEID
#: 89), after which he denied benefits in a written decision on July 5, 2016 (id., Tr. 15–33,
PAGEID #: 64–82). That decision became final when the Appeals Council denied review on
September 12, 2016. (Id., Tr. 1, PAGEID #: 50).
Plaintiff filed this case on November 9, 2016 (Doc. 1), and the Commissioner filed the
administrative record on January 17, 2017 (Doc. 9). Plaintiff filed a Statement of Specific Errors
on April 14, 2017 (Doc. 14), the Commissioner responded on May 26, 2017, (Doc. 15), and no
reply was filed.
B. Relevant Testimony at the Administrative Hearing
At the beginning of the hearing, Plaintiff acknowledged that she was recently released
from jail for possession of drug paraphernalia for which she served six months. (Doc. 9-2, Tr.
43, PAGEID #: 92). Despite Plaintiff’s testimony that she didn’t begin illicit drug use until
2015, the ALJ directed Plaintiff’s attention to a medical record from June 2015 that stated she
had been using heroin for a year. (Id., Tr. 54, PAGEID #: 103). In response, Plaintiff stated she
wouldn’t “contest that if it’s in records. I just know that I’m trying to get better, just trying to do
what I need to do.” (Id., Tr. 55, PAGEID #: 104). Plaintiff testified that she lost custody of her
son in June 2015 as a result of her drug use. (Id., Tr. 51, PAGEID #: 100).
Plaintiff testified that, prior to her jail time, she had to stop working in order to take care
of her son, who suffers from Type I diabetes. (Id., Tr. 44, PAGEID #: 93). Later in the hearing,
however, the ALJ asked why she was not able to work, and she responded: “I’m not really able
to do anything physically, I can’t even stand on my own two feet.” (Id., Tr. 47, PAGEID #: 97).
Plaintiff further explained that it was “most likely [her] fibromyalgia diagnosis” that caused her
to apply for disability. (Id., Tr. 48, PAGEID #: 97).
When asked by her attorney to give details about her mental health, Plaintiff stated that
most days she feels hopeless, doesn’t want to go to work, and doesn’t want to take care of
herself. (Id., Tr. 49, PAGEID #: 98). Plaintiff testified that she suffers from anxiety that is
caused by “appointments, obligations, [and] interaction with people.” (Id., Tr. 49–50, PAGEID
#: 98–99). Plaintiff also said she suffers from depression and has had suicidal ideation that
resulted in two trips to the emergency room. (Id., Tr. 50–51, PAGEID #: 99–100). Plaintiff
stated that the medications she takes, however, improve her mental health condition. (Id., Tr.
56–57, PAGEID #: 105–06).
In terms of daily activities, Plaintiff stated that she likes to sew clothes, blankets, and
scarves because it helps with her anxiety and depression. (Id., Tr. 56, PAGEID #: 105). She also
confirmed during her attorney’s questioning that on “good days”—which she testified occurs
once or twice a week—she performs household chores and personal care. (Id., Tr. 53, PAGEID
#: 102). Further, Plaintiff testified that she attended Muskingum University until January 2014,
in pursuit of a Master’s degree in social work, but quit because she “was going through some
mental problems and my son was ill and just–I wasn’t doing well in school.” (Id.).
C. Relevant Background
From December 2013 to November 11, 2014, Plaintiff saw Brenda Verhey for outpatient
counseling. (Doc. 9-9, Tr. 963–978, PAGEID #: 1019–34). On several occasions, Ms. Verhey
noted Plaintiff’s demeanor was depressed, defeated, or hopeless (e.g., id., Tr. 963–64, 966–67,
969–70, PAGEID #: 1019–20, 1022–23, 1025–26), but she was always described as cooperative
(id.). In Ms. Verhey’s treatment notes there were numerous occasions where Plaintiff was
reported as a “NC/NS”—a no call, no show. (Id., Tr. 968, 971–74, PAGEID #: 1024, 1027–30).
At a gynecology appointment on February 14, 2014, Plaintiff was noted to be oriented to
person, place, or time, with normal mood and affect. (Doc. 9-7, Tr. 308, PAGEID #: 362).
On March 5, 2014, Plaintiff was evaluated by Georgeann Neuzil, CNS, following surgery
for endometriosis, who noted Plaintiff had some “mood swings” and was depressed due to
ongoing conflict with her husband. (Id., Tr. 338, PAGEID #: 392). At that time, Plaintiff was
dysthymic, but had good eye contact, a logical thought process, intact memory and cognition,
fair insight, good judgment, intact impulse control, and was described as being attentive,
oriented, and cooperative. (Id., Tr. 338–39, PAGEID #: 392–93). She reported using music,
nature, reading, talking with others, prayer, and deep breathing as coping skills. (Id., Tr. 339,
Plaintiff began attending mental health therapy through Family Care Behavioral Health
on March 26, 2014. (Doc. 9-10, Tr. 1043, PAGEID #: 1100). Plaintiff was described as
pleasant, with clear speech, logical thoughts, and poor eye contact. (Id., Tr. 1044, PAGEID #:
1101). Over the course of the next few months, over numerous appointments, Plaintiff was
consistently described as pleasant, friendly, talkative, and calm. (Id., Tr. 1034–42, PAGEID #:
On April 14, 2014, Plaintiff submitted a Social Security Administration Function Report.
(Doc. 9-6, Tr. 184, PAGEID #: 237). In the report, Plaintiff stated that she cared for her son by
bathing him, clothing him, preparing meals, taking him to the doctor, and putting him to sleep.
(Id., Tr. 185, PAGEID #: 238). Plaintiff also reported that she prepared simple meals daily; she
does laundry and cleans the bathroom sometimes; she leaves the house three to four days a week;
she goes to the store once a month and shops online once every three months; she enjoys art,
reading, journaling, sewing, and listening to music; and she socializes with her family and goes
to church two to three days a week. (Id., Tr. 186–89, PAGEID #: 239–42). Further, Plaintiff
stated that she can follow written instructions “very well” and “get[s] along with authority
figures.” (Id., Tr. 189–90, PAGEID #: 242–43).
Plaintiff saw Dr. Steve Meyer, PhD on May 14, 2014, for a psychological evaluation
relating to her claim for mental disability benefits. (Doc. 9-7, Tr. 461, PAGEID #: 515). At the
appointment, Plaintiff denied having any problems getting along with authority figures and
stated she last worked at Lowe’s but quit “due to physical problems.” (Id., Tr. 462, PAGEID #:
516). Dr. Meyer noted that Plaintiff was currently prescribed psychotropic medications “with
some positive response.” (Id.). In terms of her appearance, Dr. Meyer opined that Plaintiff
seemed tired, sad, and a little uncomfortable, her eye contact was inconsistent, and she sat with a
rigid posture. (Id., Tr. 463, PAGEID #: 517). Dr. Meyer also noted, however, that Plaintiff’s
appearance and hygiene were adequate, she was cooperative, and her thought processes were
well organized. (Id.). Further, Plaintiff was described as “alert, clear, and oriented to person,
place, time and situation[;]” she had no difficulty understanding simple or moderately complex
instructions; her abilities were above average on the digit-span recall test; and her concentration,
persistence, and pace on tasks were good. (Id., Tr. 463–64, PAGEID #: 517–18). Dr. Meyer
ultimately diagnosed Plaintiff with Adjustment Disorder with Depression and Anxiety. (Id., Tr.
464, PAGEID #: 518).
On August 5, 2014, Plaintiff saw Dr. Ajay Sharma for medication management purposes.
(Doc. 9-11, Tr. 1391, PAGEID #: 1449). Treatment notes suggest Plaintiff was previously
diagnosed with major depressive order without mention of psychotic behavior, as well as
generalized anxiety disorder. (Id.). Plaintiff was described as cooperative, spontaneous, and
alert and oriented to time, place, and person. (Id.). Further, Plaintiff had good eye contact, but
was noted as having a depressed mood and constricted affect. (Id.). Plaintiff was described in
the same manner at another follow-up appointment with Dr. Sharma on September 2, 2014. (Id.,
Tr. 1387, PAGEID #: 1445).
Plaintiff met with Melinda Lutz, a licensed independent social worker, on September 11,
2014. (Doc. 9-9, Tr. 981, PAGEID #: 1037). Ms. Lutz reported that Plaintiff had “a very poor
self view,” poor eye contact, often blamed others, and opined that Plaintiff would likely be
absent from work more than four days a month.
In completing a mental residual
functional capacity form, Ms. Lutz stated, inter alia, that Plaintiff had mild impairments in
interacting with the general public and maintaining socially appropriate behavior and adhering to
basic standards of neatness and cleanliness; moderate impairments in maintaining attention and
concentration for extend periods, understanding, remembering, and carrying out very short and
simple instructions, and sustaining an ordinary routine; marked restrictions in getting along with
coworkers or peers, accepting instructions and responding appropriately to criticism from
supervisors, activities of daily living, maintaining social functioning, and maintaining
concentration, persistence, and pace; and no extreme restrictions. (Id., Tr. 982–83, PAGEID #:
Five days later, Dr. Sharma completed the exact same mental residual functional capacity
form. (Id., Tr. 985, PAGEID #: 1041). Dr. Sharma stated that Plaintiff’s prognosis was poor and
that she would be absent from work more than four days per month. (Id.). As for Plaintiff’s
restrictions, Dr. Sharma opined that Plaintiff had “extreme” limitations in all sixteen of the listed
categories. (Id., Tr. 986–87, PAGEID #: 1042–43).
At another medication management appointment with Dr. Sharma on December 9, 2014,
Plaintiff was described as having casual grooming, good eye contact, intact memory, an average
fund of knowledge, and fair insight and judgment. (Doc. 9-11, Tr. 1375, PAGEID #: 1433). Dr.
Sharma also stated that Plaintiff was alert and oriented to time, place and person, with a
depressed mood and constricted affect. (Id.). Treatment records show Dr. Sharma continued to
see Plaintiff until August 10, 2015, with similar observations at each appointment. (see id., Tr.
1342–1382, PAGEID #: 1400–1441).
At a counseling appointment on February 5, 2015, Plaintiff was described as pleasant and
talkative throughout the visit. (Doc. 9-10, Tr. 1158, PAGEID #: 1215). Plaintiff reported that
she spends most of her time painting, sewing, or writing, and explained that she auditioned for
the Zaney Folies. (Id.). At another counseling appointment three weeks later, she complained of
feeling overwhelmed and frustrated and appeared depressed. (Id., Tr. 1157, PAGEID #: 1214).
Plaintiff was admitted to the Emergency Room on March 24, 2015, with suicidal
(Doc. 9-10, Tr. 1120, PAGEID #:1177).
Upon examination, Plaintiff was alert,
cooperative, in no apparent distress, but had poor eye contact, and was described as having a
depressed mood and constricted affect. (Id., Tr. 1121–22, PAGEID #: 1178–79). Although
Plaintiff was described as tearful, she was also described as “alert and oriented.” (Id., Tr. 1142,
PAGEID #: 1199). While at the hospital, Plaintiff tested positive for Benzodiazepines. (Id., Tr.
1122, PAGEID #: 1179).
Plaintiff was admitted to the hospital for suicidal thoughts once again on June 18, 2015.
(Id., Tr. 1159, PAGEID #: 1216). Upon admittance, Plaintiff was described as being welldeveloped, well-nourished, oriented to person, place, and time, cooperative, having poor eye
contact, average intelligence, fair insight, fair judgment, with a depressed mood and constricted
affect. (Id., Tr. 1161, 1189, PAGEID #: 1218, 1246). Treatment notes state that “[t]he degree of
incapacity that she is experiencing as a consequence of her illness is moderate.” (Id., Tr. 1188,
PAGEID #: 1245). During this visit, Plaintiff’s toxicology screen tested positive for opiates and
Methamphetamine (id., Tr. 1166, 1222, PAGEID #: 1223, 1279), and Plaintiff admitted that she
was “going through withdrawal” (id., Tr. 1196, PAGEID #: 1253).
On December 22, 2015, Plaintiff completed a Background Questionnaire in which she
stated that she could cook, wash dishes, mop, vacuum, shop for groceries sometimes, drive a car,
and use public transportation. (Doc. 9-6, Tr. 233–34, PAGEID #: 286–87). Plaintiff reported
that an ordinary day includes housework, errands, preparing meals, and interacting with her son.
(Id., Tr. 234, PAGEID #: 287). Additionally, for entertainment, Plaintiff stated she liked to sew,
crochet, read, write poetry, paint, and sketch. (Id.).
State agency consultant Dr. Courtney Zuene, PsyD, reviewed Plaintiff’s record on June 5,
2014, and concluded Plaintiff could understand and remember simple and most multi-step
moderately complex instructions. (Doc. 9-3, Tr. 105, PAGEID #: 155). Dr. Zuene also opined
that Plaintiff would do best in a static work environment that was a less public setting where only
occasional superficial contact with coworkers is required. (Id., Tr. 106–07, PAGEID #: 156–57).
State agency consultant Dr. Jennifer Swain, PsyD, reached similar conclusions on November 11,
2014. (Id., Tr. 122–23, PAGEID #: 172–73). Ultimately, Dr. Zuene and Dr. Swain opined that
Plaintiff had mild restrictions of activities of daily living, moderate difficulties in maintaining
social functioning, moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace, and
no episodes of decompensation. (Id., Tr. 102, 118, PAGEID #: 153, 168).
D. The ALJ’s Decision
The ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: obesity, degenerative
disease of the lumbar spine, fibromyalgia, non-dystrophic myotonia/muscle channelopathy,
polysubstance dependence, and affective and anxiety-related disorders.
(Doc. 9-2, Tr. 20,
PAGEID #: 69). However, the ALJ held that there was no medical opinion of record to indicate
the existence of an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or equal in severity the
level of the Listings of Impairments. (Id., Tr. 21, PAGEID #: 70).
Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff’s mental symptomatology did not result in
marked or extreme functional limitations in the areas of activities of daily living, social
functioning, concentration/persistence/pace, or episodes of decompensation as required in
“paragraph B” of Listing 12.04 or Listing 12.06. (Id., Tr. 22, PAGEID #: 71). Rather, the ALJ
held as follows: Plaintiff had “mild” restriction in activities of daily living, as she was able to
bathe herself, prepare simple meals, clean bathrooms, perform laundry, care for her son, drive,
shop, and engage in a variety of hobbies; Plaintiff had moderate difficulties in social functioning;
Plaintiff had moderate difficulties with regard to concentration, persistence, or pace; and Plaintiff
had not experienced any extended episodes of decompensation. (Id., Tr. 22–23, PAGEID #: 71–
72). Thus, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not satisfy the “paragraph b” criteria. (Id.).
In analyzing the “paragraph c” requirements, the ALJ opined that Plaintiff did not have a
medically documented history of any of the three criteria—repeated episodes of decompensation,
a residual disease process that has resulted in such marginal adjustment that even a minimal
increase in mental demands would be predicted to cause the individual to decompensate, or a
current history of one or more years’ inability to function outside a highly supportive living
arrangement. (Id., Tr. 24, PAGEID #: 73). Thus, the ALJ held that Plaintiff did not meet any
As to Plaintiff’s RFC, the ALJ opined has follows:
The claimant has the physical residual functional capacity to perform light work
as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). From a mental standpoint, she is able to
understand, remember, and carry out simply repetitive tasks and maintain
concentration and attention for two-hour segments over an eight-hour work
period. She is able to respond appropriately to supervisors and coworkers in a
task-oriented setting where contact with other is casual and infrequent. She is
able to adapt to simple changes and avoid hazards in a setting without strict
(Id., Tr. 24, PAGEID #: 73).
In making this determination, specifically with respect to Plaintiff’s mental functioning,
the ALJ noted that Plaintiff was consistently observed with normal mood and affect, alert,
oriented, and in no apparent distress between February and May 2014. (Id., Tr. 28, PAGEID #:
77). The ALJ also pointed out that at a May 2014 appointment with psychologist Steven Mayer,
Plaintiff was observed as tired, sad, a little uncomfortable, dysphoric, and anxious, but also was
cooperative, alert, clear, fully oriented, and had no difficulty understanding simple or moderately
Further, the ALJ explained that Plaintiff exhibited good
concentration, persistence, and pace of tasks, and denied having any problems getting along with
authority figures. (Id.). Although Plaintiff was hospitalized for suicidal thoughts, the ALJ
recognized that she was described as cooperative, alert, and oriented, during her visit and her
toxicology screen was positive for illegal substances. (Id., Tr. 29, PAGEID #: 78).
In sum, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff retained substantially normal mental functioning
and cognition, despite “some drug abuse and affective and anxiety-related symptomatology that
aggravates under stress and intense social interactions.” (Id.). In reaching this conclusion and
in defining Plaintiff’s RFC, the ALJ gave “significant weight, but not controlling weight,” to the
assessments of Dr. Zuene, Dr. Swain, and Dr. Meyer. (Id., Tr. 29–30, PAGEID #: 78–79). More
specifically the ALJ stated that his RFC assessment “generally appears to accommodate the
limitations indicated by Dr. Zuene, Dr. Swain, and Dr. Meyer.” (Id., Tr. 30, PAGEID #: 79).
Finally, the ALJ gave “no significant weight” to the assessments of treating source Dr.
Sharma and Ms. Lutz. (Id.). The ALJ explained that Ms. Lutz’s opinion was not well supported
by the record and, because she is a social worker, her medical opinion is not included among the
acceptable sources of medical evidence defined in the regulations. (Id.). Dr. Sharma’s opinion,
according to the ALJ, also was “not well supported by medically-acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques, and are inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the case
record.” (Id.). Specifically, the ALJ noted that the medical record “generally documents normal
mental functioning, even when mental symptomatology has been present,” and marked and
extreme mental work-related limitations were not consistent with Plaintiff’s activities of daily
living. (Id.). The ALJ also considered the fact that the record evidenced only conservative, noninvasive treatment and Plaintiff’s medications appear to have helped control her
symptomatology. (Id., Tr. 31, PAGEID #: 80).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Court’s review “is limited to determining whether the Commissioner’s decision is
supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards.” Winn v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 615 F. App’x 315, 320 (6th Cir. 2015); see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
“[S]ubstantial evidence is defined as ‘more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a
preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.’” Rogers v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007)
(quoting Cutlip v. Sec’y of HHS, 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994)). “Therefore, if substantial
evidence supports the ALJ’s decision, this Court defers to that finding ‘even if there is
substantial evidence in the record that would have supported an opposite conclusion.’” Blakley
v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d
270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997)).
Plaintiff alleges only one statement of error—that the ALJ erred in assigning “no
significant weight” to the treating source opinion of Dr. Sharma. (Doc. 14 at 17–18). Plaintiff
concedes that “the ALJ applied the correct legal standard to this treating source opinion,” but
argues “his reasoning nonetheless runs afoul of the legal standard because it is not supported by
the evidence in the record.” (Id. at 18).
Two related rules govern how an ALJ is required to analyze a treating physician’s
opinion. Dixon v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., No. 3:14-cv-478, 2016 WL 860695, at *4 (S.D. Ohio
Mar. 7, 2016). The first is the “treating physician rule.” Id. The rule requires an ALJ to “give
controlling weight to a treating source’s opinion on the issue(s) of the nature and severity of the
claimant’s impairment(s) if the opinion is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in the
case record.” LaRiccia v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 549 F. App’x 377, 384 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting
20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
However, “an ALJ may
properly reject a treating physician’s opinion that does not meet these standards.” Mixon v.
Colvin, 12 F. Supp. 3d 1052, 1063–64 (S.D. Ohio 2013) (citing Walters v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.,
127 F.3d 525, 529–31 (6th Cir. 1997).
Closely associated is “the good reasons rule,” which requires an ALJ always to give
“good reasons . . . for the weight given to the claimant’s treating source opinion.” Dixon, 2016
WL 860695, at *4 (quoting Blakley, 581 F.3d at 406 (alterations in original)); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(2). Friend v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 375 F. App’x 543, 550–51 (6th Cir. 2010). In
order to meet the “good reasons” standard, the ALJ’s determination “must be 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.” Cole, 661 F.3d at 937.
The requirement of reason-giving exists, in part, to let claimants understand the
disposition of their cases, particularly in situations where a claimant knows that
his physician has deemed him disabled and therefore “might be especially
bewildered when told by an administrative bureaucracy that she is not, unless
some reason for the agency’s decision is supplied. The requirement also ensures
that the ALJ applies the treating physician rule and permits meaningful review of
the ALJ’s application of the rule.
Wilson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004) (internal citation and quotation
marks omitted). The treating physician rule and the good reasons rule together create what has
been referred to as the “two-step analysis created by the Sixth Circuit.” Allums v. Comm’r of
Soc. Sec., 975 F. Supp. 2d 823, 832 (N.D. Ohio 2013).
Here, the ALJ declined to give controlling weight to Dr. Sharma, stating that his opinion
was “not well supported by medically-acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques,
and [was] inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the case record.” In particular, the ALJ
relied on numerous mental health treatment records that “document[ed] normal mental
functioning, even when mental symptomatology ha[d] been present.”
(Doc. 9-2, Tr. 30,
PAGEID #: 79). Indeed, the ALJ referenced medical records where Plaintiff consistently was
described as cooperative, talkative, alert to person, place and time, and displayed a normal mood
and affect. (See id., Tr. 28–30, PAGEID #: 77–79). This is inconsistent with Dr. Sharma’s
mental residual functional capacity worksheet in which he opined Plaintiff had “extreme”
limitations in every possible category.
By way of example, Dr. Sharma stated that Plaintiff had extreme limitations in her ability
to maintain socially appropriate behavior and adhere to basic standards of neatness and
cleanliness. (See Doc. 9-9, Tr. 986, PAGEID #: 1042). However, there is no evidence in the
record that Plaintiff’s ability to maintain socially appropriate behavior was even limited, let alone
extremely limited, and Plaintiff’s appearance and hygiene were described as adequate by Dr.
Meyer and others. Further, although Ms. Lutz mental residual functional capacity was given no
significant weight by the ALJ, it is worth noting that she did not find a single category warranted
a designation of an “extreme” limitation—further demonstrating the inconsistency of Dr.
Sharma’s opinion with the remainder of the record.
Additionally, the ALJ explained that Dr. Sharma’s “extreme mental work-related
limitations are inconsistent with the claimant’s activities of living.” (Doc. 9-2, Tr. 30, PAGEID
#: 79). For example, Plaintiff herself reported that she gets along well with authority figures and
that she could follow written instructions “very well.” (Id., Tr. 22–23, PAGEID #: 71–72).
Moreover, Plaintiff attempted to care for her disabled son by bathing and clothing him, preparing
his meals, taking him to doctors’ appointments, and putting him to sleep. (Id., Tr. 22, PAGEID
#: 71). These activities were inconsistent with Dr. Sharma’s extreme restrictions.
Finally, the ALJ noted that “[m]edications have helped control the claimant’s
symptomatology and the record does not document significant, persistent medication side
effects.” (Id., Tr. 31, PAGEID #: 80). This was supported by Dr. Meyer’s assessment, who
found Plaintiff’s prescribed psychotropic medications had “some positive response.” Moreover,
Plaintiff herself testified at the hearing that she believed her medications helped her
symptomatology. And although Plaintiff was hospitalized twice for mental health reasons, both
times drug abuse was present which the ALJ found exacerbated the situation.
Plaintiff, on the other hand, argues that Dr. Sharma’s opinion was consistent with his
treatment notes, as his findings consistently noted a depressed mood, a constricted affect, and a
low GAF score. (Doc. 14 at 1922). And Plaintiff argues that the ALJ essentially “cherrypicked” evidence and did not acknowledge that Plaintiff’s stated activities only occur on her
“good days” and that she is only able to shop for groceries “sometimes” and do chores “at
times.” (Doc. 14 at 21–22). Further, Plaintiff points to her hospitalizations and Ms. Lutz’s
opined marked limitations as being consistent with Dr. Sharma’s opinion. (Id.). As mentioned
above, however, Ms. Lutz’s opinion hardly provides adequate support for Dr. Sharma’s opined
limitations. Even so, it is true that the record contains some evidence that may support Plaintiff’s
argument, but under the substantial evidence standard, the ALJ’s findings are “not subject to
reversal merely because substantial evidence exists in the record to support a different
conclusion.” Mixon, 12 F. Supp. 3d at 1064 (citing Felisky v. Bowen, 35 F.3d 1027, 1035 (6th
Cir. 1996)). Rather, it is the ALJ’s “function to resolve conflicts in the evidence, see Hardaway
v. Sec’y of H.H.S., 823 F.2d 922, 928 (6th Cir.1987),” and that is exactly what the ALJ did here.
Consequently, although the ALJ recognized Plaintiff’s affective and anxiety-related
symptomatology, he heavily relied on the opinions of Dr. Zuene, Dr. Swain, and Dr. Meyer—
who all found that Plaintiff had the cognitive capacity to understand, remember, and carryout
simple and complex instructions, and could maintain attention, concentration, persistence and
pace to perform simple multistep tasks in a setting without strict production requirement—and
ultimately found Plaintiff “retained substantially normal mental functioning and cognition.” (Id.,
Tr. 29–30, PAGEID #: 78–79).
Although Plaintiff may disagree with the ALJ’s ultimate conclusion, his decision to reject
Dr. Sharma’s opinion was appropriate because he found it was inconsistent with the other
substantial evidence in the record. Further, the ALJ’s explanation constitutes sufficient detail to
satisfy the good-reasons requirement and appropriately explained the disposition of the case to
Plaintiff. See Barncord v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., No. 2:16-CV-389, 2017 WL 2821705, at *6
(S.D. Ohio June 30, 2017). Thus, the ALJ followed the two-step analysis created by the Sixth
Circuit, as his findings and reasoning regarding Dr. Sharma’s opinion were supported by
substantial evidence. It was therefore not an error for the ALJ to refuse to give Dr. Sharma’s
opinion controlling weight. See id.
For the reasons stated, it is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff’s Statement of Errors (Doc.
14) be OVERRULED and that judgment be entered in favor of Defendant.
Procedure on Objections
If any party objects to this Report and Recommendation, that party may, within fourteen
(14) days of the date of this Report, file and serve on all parties written objections to those
specific proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made, together with
supporting authority for the objection(s).
A judge of this Court shall make a de novo
determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations
to which objection is made. Upon proper objections, a judge of this Court may accept, reject, or
modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made herein, may receive further
evidence or may recommit this matter to the magistrate judge with instructions. 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1). Failure to object to the Report and Recommendation will result in a waiver of the
right to have the district judge review the Report and Recommendation de novo, and also
operates as a waiver of the right to appeal the decision of the District Court adopting the Report
and Recommendation. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 152–53 (1985).
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Date: August 23, 2017
/s/ Kimberly A. Jolson
KIMBERLY A. JOLSON
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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?