Harris v. Commissioner of Social Security
ORDER adopting Report and Recommendations re 18 Report and Recommendations.. Signed by Judge James L. Graham on 11/17/2017. (ds)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
Ruie Ellen Harris,
Case No. 2:17-cv-131
Plaintiff Ruie Ellen Harris brings this action under 42 U.S.C.
§§405(g) for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her applications for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. In
a decision dated November 19, 2015, the administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) found that plaintiff had severe impairments consisting of
schizoaffective disorder depressive type, and post-traumatic stress
disorder. PAGEID 65. After considering the entire record, the ALJ
found that plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”) would
permit her to perform work at all exertional levels, but
work is limited to simple routine and repetitive tasks in
a work environment free of fast paced production
requirements involving only simple work related decisions
with few, if any, work place changes, only brief and
occasional interaction with co-workers, no tandem tasks,
[and] only occasional interaction with supervisors.
PAGEID 66. After considering the testimony of a vocational expert,
the ALJ decided that there were jobs which plaintiff could perform
and that plaintiff was not disabled.
plaintiff’s November 6, 2017, objections to the October 23, 2017,
report and recommendation of the magistrate judge recommending that
the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed.
The government has
filed a response to the objections.
I. Standard of Review
If a party objects within the allotted time to a report and
recommendation, the court “shall make a de novo determination of
those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or
§ 636(b)(1); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b).
Upon review, the
court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the
findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.”
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
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.’”
Ealy v. Comm’r of
Soc. Sec., 594 F.3d 504, 512 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Rogers v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007)); see also,
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“The findings of the Commissioner of Social
Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence,
shall be conclusive.”).
Put another way, a decision supported by
substantial evidence is not subject to reversal, even if the
reviewing court might arrive at a different conclusion.
Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986).
Even if supported by
substantial evidence, however, “‘a decision of the Commissioner
will not be upheld where the [Commissioner] fails to follow its own
regulations and where that error prejudices a claimant on the
merits or deprives the claimant of a substantial right.’”
v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Bowen v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 746 (6th Cir. 2007)).
A. RFC Determination
Plaintiff argues that the RFC formulated by the ALJ failed to
psychologist Kevin J. Edwards, Ph.D., the December 6, 2013, report
of state agency psychologist Vicki Warren, Ph.D., and the March 29,
2014, report of state agency psychologist Robyn Hoffman, Ph.D. The
court agrees with the magistrate judge’s analysis of the RFC, and
with her conclusion that this objection is not well taken.
A claimant’s RFC is the most that a claimant can do despite
his or her limitations.
20 U.S.C. §404.1545(a)(1).
determined by the functional limitations imposed by a condition,
not the mere diagnosis of it.
Hill v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 560
F.App’x 547, 551 (6th Cir. 2014). In making the RFC determination,
the ALJ must evaluate all the medical evidence as well as the
Webb v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 368 F.3d 629,
633 (6th Cir. 2004).
The ALJ, not a medical expert, ultimately
determines the claimant’s RFC.
Coldiron v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.,
391 F.App’x 435, 439 (6th Cir. 2010); 20 C.F.R. §§404.1527(e)(2)
An ALJ’s decision to give weight to medical
opinion evidence does not require the ALJ to incorporate every
restriction proposed by the medical source. Salisbury v. Comm’r of
Soc. Sec., No. 5:11-CV-2277, 2013 WL 427733, *7 (N.D. Ohio Feb. 1,
limitations using the exact language of those medical sources as
long as substantial evidence demonstrates that the ALJ adequately
portrayed the claimant’s limitations in the RFC. See Smith-Johnson
v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 579 F. App’x 426, 436 (6th Cir. 2014).
Dr. Edwards noted in his report that plaintiff had mild
difficulty with more detailed instructions.”
Edwards also concluded that plaintiff’s mental conditions resulted
in moderate impairment which “would interfere with persistence and
Dr. Edwards further noted that, although
plaintiff got along with coworkers, had good social skills, and had
no history of problems with supervisors, “she likely would have an
unfavorable response in groups, becoming fearful and wanting to
Dr. Edwards also noted that during the
examination, the “essentially untreated symptoms of GAD [General
Anxiety Disorder] and Dysthemic Disorder created a loss of energy,
slow cognitive processing, [and] psychomotor retardation, and
caused emotional reactions.
It is my opinion that these symptoms
would increase as perceived stress increased.”
of these reported impairments were phrased in terms of a specific
job restriction, nor did Dr. Edwards express the opinion that any
of these impairments would preclude plaintiff from working.
Dr. Warren concluded that plaintiff is “capable of low stress
jobs in a setting that does not require working in tandem w/other
employees” and that she could “make simple work related decisions.”
She observed that plaintiff “remain[s] capable of
simple work in a low stress environment.” PAGEID 110. Dr. Hoffman
opined that plaintiff “is capable of simple, repetitive tasks in a
setting that does not require working in tandem w/other employees
or fast-pace or filling large quotas.”
observed that plaintiff “is limited to occas’l superficial social
interactions in a less public setting” and that plaintiff can “make
simple work related decisions in a predictable work environment
where changes are infrequent.”
She concluded that
plaintiff could “perform simple jobs that do not involve working
closely with others.”
The ALJ stated that the RFC was supported by the opinion of
The ALJ also noted that Dr. Hoffman’s
opinion that plaintiff “could do simple work in a predictable work
consistent with my RFC finding.”
The ALJ also
specifically referred to Dr. Warren’s opinion that plaintiff “could
do simple work.” PAGEID 69. In crafting the restrictions included
in the RFC, the ALJ, to a large extent, used the exact language
employed by the experts, and otherwise adequately captured the gist
of those limitations. The ALJ also considered plaintiff’s behavior
at the hearing, noting that plaintiff “was able to participate in
[the] hearing closely and fully without being distracted, and
respond to questions in [an] appropriate manner[.]”
Dr. Edwards’ observations of plaintiff’s mild impairment in
new learning and difficulty with more detailed instructions are
addressed in the RFC by limiting plaintiff to “simple routine and
repetitive tasks” and work “involving only simple work related
decisions with few, if any, work place changes[.]”
These restrictions also adequately address Dr. Warren’s opinion
that plaintiff could “make simple work related decisions” and Dr.
Hoffman’s opinion that plaintiff can “make simple work related
decisions in a predictable work environment where changes are
PAGEID 69, 107, 134.
Dr. Edwards’ opinion that
plaintiff’s mental conditions resulted in moderate impairment which
“would interfere with persistence and pace” and Dr. Hoffman’s
recommendation that plaintiff’s employment not involve a fast pace
or filling large quotas are taken into account by the above RFC
restrictions limiting plaintiff to simple, routine and repetitive
tasks, as well as by the limitation that plaintiff be employed “in
a work environment free of fast paced production requirements[.]”
PAGEID 69, 133, 384.
Despite the fact that Dr. Edwards noted that plaintiff got
along with coworkers, had good social skills, and had no history of
problems with supervisors, the ALJ nonetheless took into account
his opinion that plaintiff “likely would have an unfavorable
response in groups” by including in the RFC the requirement that
plaintiff have “only occasional interaction with co-workers” and
“only occasional interaction with supervisors[.]”
PAGEID 69, 384.
The ALJ addressed the recommendations of Drs. Warren and Hoffman
that plaintiff have employment which does not require working in
tandem with other employees by including in the RFC the requirement
that there be “no tandem tasks[.]”
PAGEID 69, 107, 133.
also took into account Dr. Hoffman’s recommendation that plaintiff
be limited to occasional “superficial social interactions in a less
public setting” by specifying that plaintiff have “only brief and
superficial interaction with [the] public[.]” PAGEID 69, 134. All
of the restrictions in the RFC are designed to result in a lowstress work environment.
plaintiff’s limitations in the RFC, that he adequately explained
his RFC findings, and that his RFC determinations are supported by
This objection is not well taken.
B. Consideration of the Opinion of Denise A. Kohler, Ph.D.
conclusion that the ALJ adequately explained his reasons for
assigning little weight to the opinion of Dr. Kohler, a consulting
psychologist with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services
who evaluated plaintiff in connection with plaintiff’s application
for a Medicaid card.
In her May 2, 2014, report, Dr. Kohler opined
that plaintiff has both marked and moderate limitations which
rendered her unemployable.
Kohler’s opinion little weight.
The ALJ gave Dr.
Because Dr. Kohler was a consultative examiner, the ALJ was
not obligated to give “good reasons” for the weight assigned to his
Ealy, 594 F.3d at 514; Smith v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 482
F.3d 873, 876 (6th Cir. 2007).
is not required.
A formulaic recitation of factors
See Friend v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.App’x
543, 551 (6th Cir. 2010).
An ALJ’s failure to cite specific
evidence does not indicate that it was not considered.
Barnhart, 114 F.App’x 727, 733 (6th Cir. 2004).
The ALJ stated that he gave Dr. Kohler’s opinion little weight
because plaintiff’s condition had greatly improved over the twelve
months since Dr. Kohler’s evaluation.
As support for
this conclusion, the ALJ cited his thorough discussion, included
earlier in the decision, of the records of plaintiff’s treatment at
New Horizons Mental Health Services from December, 2013, through
See PAGEID 68.
As the magistrate judge noted, Doc.
18, p. 10, these records reported improvement in mood, depression,
energy, motivation, irritability, concentration, and incidences of
The ALJ also noted that the November 19,
2013, report of Dr. Edwards, the December 6, 2013, report of Dr.
Warren, and the March 29, 2014, report of Dr. Hoffman (roughly
within the same time frame as Dr. Kohler’s May 2, 2014, report) all
expressed the opinion that plaintiff was capable of simple work.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ’s statements that “there is
nothing in the record subsequent to Dr. Hoffman’s opinion [that
plaintiff was capable of simple work] ... to find otherwise” and
that there was no “finding of disabled by a governmental ...
Agency[,]” see PAGEID 69, are inaccurate, citing Dr. Kohler’s
However, even if these statements are not strictly
accurate, they must be considered in the context of the ALJ’s
decision to give Dr. Kohler’s opinion little weight, a decision
which is supported by substantial evidence in the record.
court construes these statements to mean that the ALJ concluded
that there was no credible opinion entitled to significant weight
which contradicted the other experts’ findings that plaintiff was
capable of simple work and was not disabled.
As to the latter
statement, the court also notes that the determination of whether
plaintiff is disabled is one reserved to the Commissioner.
C.F.R. §416.927(d)(1); Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 511 (6th Cir.
The court agrees with the magistrate judge’s recommendation
that this objection should be denied.
In accordance with the foregoing, the court concludes that the
The plaintiff’s objections (Doc. 19) are denied.
recommendation (Doc. 18). The Commissioner’s decision is affirmed,
and this action is dismissed. The clerk shall enter final judgment
affirming the decision of the Commissioner.
It is so ordered.
Date: November 17, 2017
s/James L. Graham
James L. Graham
United States District Judge
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