United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
Tamara L. Kise, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
L. Graham United States District Judge
Tamara L. Kise 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 application for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income. The administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) reviewed the evidence in the record and
held two hearings. In a decision dated November 10, 2014, the
ALJ found that plaintiff had severe impairments consisting of
degenerative disk disease, hypertension, left knee pain with
possible degenerative changes, obesity, bereavement disorder,
generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and bipolar
disorder. PAGEID 55. After considering the entire record, the
ALJ found that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform work with some physical
limitations, and that she was “able to perform simple
routine tasks in a low stress environment, which is defined
in this case as requiring only occasional interaction with
others and work with no strict production quotas or time
pressures.” PAGEID 59. Citing the testimony of the
vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that there were jobs in
the economy which plaintiff could perform, and that she was
not disabled. PAGEID 66-67.
matter is before the court for consideration of
plaintiff's April 28, 2017, objections (Doc. 18) in
response to the April 14, 2017, report and recommendation of
the magistrate judge (Doc. 17), recommending that the
decision of the Commissioner be affirmed. Plaintiff's
objections concern the ALJ's consideration of evidence
relevant to plaintiff's mental disabilities.
Standard of Review
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 recommendations to which
objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 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.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
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.”). A reviewing court will affirm the
Commissioner's decision if it is based on substantial
evidence, even if substantial evidence would also have
supported the opposite conclusion. Gayheart v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec., 710 F.3d 365, 376 (6th Cir. 2013).
“Substantial evidence exists when ‘a reasonable
mind could accept the evidence as adequate to support a
conclusion [and] . . . presupposes that there is a zone of
choice within which the decision-makers can go either way,
without interference by the courts.'” Blakley
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir.
2009) (internal citation omitted). 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.'” Rabbers 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)).
ALJ's Consideration of Dr. Donaldson's Report
noted below that the ALJ assigned great weight to the opinion
of Dr. Scott L. Donaldson, Ph.D., who conducted a
consultative evaluation of plaintiff on April 26, 2012.
See PAGEID 63. Plaintiff argued that there were
significant inconsistencies between Dr. Donaldson's
report, Exhibit 6F, and the RFC which were not addressed by
the ALJ. Plaintiff contended that because of this omission,
the RFC was not supported by substantial evidence, and she
argued that the case should be remanded to require the ALJ to
explain how he reconciled these inconsistencies.
magistrate judge correctly observed that the findings in Dr.
Donaldson's report were not necessarily inconsistent with
the RFC. As the magistrate judge noted, the ALJ's
decision to give Dr. Donaldson's report great weight did
not constitute a blanket acceptance of that report. The
ALJ's decision indicates that she did not accept every
finding made by Dr. Donaldson, most notably, the Global
Assessment of Function (“GAF”) score of 45.
See Doc.17, p. 10; PAGEID 64-65. Rather, the ALJ
stated that the mental limitations in the RFC
“generally accept and adopt the opinion of Dr.
Donaldson.” See PAGEID 63 (emphasis supplied).
court is unaware of any authority which would require the
language of the RFC to exactly mirror the language of the
expert reports upon which the RFC is based. The fact that the
wording of the RFC does not include the precise language in
Dr. Donaldson's report does not mean that the two are
inconsistent, and Dr. Donaldson's somewhat tentatively
phrased conclusions do not clearly conflict with the RFC. For
example, Dr. Donaldson stated that plaintiff's attention,
concentration, persistence and pace in order to perform
simple and multi-step tasks “may be limited by
symptoms of anxiety, bipolar, bereavement and panic
disorders” and that her “chronic pain and fatigue
are likely to exacerbate attentional and
concentration difficulties.” PAGEID 512 (emphasis
supplied). See also PAGEID 510 (“based on
psychological components of chronic pain and fatigue, her
ability to focus and sustain her attention may be
limited”)(emphasis supplied); PAGEID 512
(plaintiff's “ability to respond appropriately to
work pressures in the work setting may be
limited”)(emphasis supplied). However, as the
magistrate correctly noted, Dr. Donaldson did not opine that
plaintiff could not carry out simple or multi-step tasks, nor
did he suggest any workplace accommodations or restrictions
which might reduce or eliminate the difficulties he
identified. Doc. 17, p. 10. The RFC restrictions limiting
plaintiff to “simple routine tasks in a low stress
environment” and “work with no strict production
quotas or time pressures” adequately addressed the
impairments discussed in Dr. Donaldson's report. Dr.
Donaldson also noted that plaintiff's “ability to
respond appropriately to supervisors and co-workers may
be limited.” PAGEID 512 (Emphasis supplied). The
restriction in the RFC which limits plaintiff to “only
occasional interaction with others” accommodates this
also argues that the impairments discussed in the May 21,
2012, and October 26, 2012, opinions of state agency
consultants Mary K. Hall, Ph.D and Deryck Richardson, Ph.D.
are inconsistent with Dr. Donaldson's report.
See Exs. 1A and 5A. The ALJ, at PAGEID 63, accorded
great weight to the opinions of the state agency consultants.
The state agency consultants also reviewed Dr.
Donaldson's report and assigned it great weight.
See PAGEID 147, 179. Although they expressed their
view of plaintiff's mental limitations in slightly
different terms than those contained in Dr. Donaldson's
report, those limitations were not inconsistent.
See, e.g., PAGEID 149-150 (noting that
plaintiff's mental conditions would likely limit her
concentration, persistence and pace and be increased by work
stress, that plaintiff should work in a static environment in
a small group setting or by herself, and that her interaction
with others not include conflict resolution); PAGEID 181
(plaintiff can perform 1- to 4-step tasks with no
multitasking or rapid task completion).
as plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision should have
included a detailed discussion of all of the findings in Dr.
Donaldson's report, the magistrate judge correctly
concluded that the degree of specificity demanded by
plaintiff is not required. Because Dr. Donaldson was a
consultative examiner, the ALJ was not obligated to give
“good reasons” for the weight assigned to his
opinion. Ealy, 594 F.3d at 514; Smith v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 482 F.3d 873, 876 (6th Cir.
2007). A formulaic recitation of factors is not required.
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. Simo ...