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Brown v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

June 22, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          District Judge Walter H. Rice


          Sharon L. Ovington United States Magistrate Judge


         A person's eligibility to receive Disability Insurance Benefits or Supplemental Security Income often breaks down when the Social Security Administration finds he or she is not under a “disability.” See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(a), (d), 1382c(a); see Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 469-70 (1986). Plaintiff Karleta Brown's applications met this fate mainly due to Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Elizabeth A. Motta's non-disability decision. Plaintiff brings the present case seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision.

         The case is presently before the Court upon Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (Doc. #8), the Commissioner's Memorandum in Opposition (Doc. #11), Plaintiff's Reply (Doc. #12), and the administrative record (Doc. #7).

         On September 19, 2012, the date Plaintiff filed her applications, she was 44 years old. She has at least a high-school education. Before she applied for benefits, she worked as a production assembler.

         During a hearing held by ALJ Motta, Plaintiff testified that she could not work mostly due to panic attacks and depression. She has difficulty socializing with others and feels “almost an intimidation being around other people.” (Doc. #7, PageID #101). She explained that these problems started in her last job at Indianapolis Casting Corporation, a company that makes engine blocks. She stopped working there when the stress became too much, her panic attacks worsened, and her depression started. After that job, her panic attack “progressed” and she cannot stay focused. Id. She takes mediations, Xanax and Prosac, prescribed by her physician Dr. Nickras.

         Plaintiff experiences frequent crying spells that last all day. She does not leave her house very often and has stayed there for two weeks without leaving. She described her isolation as follows:

I don't have a life. I don't have anything to talk to anybody about and as far as wanting to talk to somebody about my problems, you know, they don't want to hear that you know, they-it kind of-it brings me where I feel like I'm just a second class of citizen is how I feel sometimes.

(Doc. #7, PageID #108). She described her house as her safe haven. Id. at 110. She sometimes talks with her mother, but she spends most of her time in her bedroom. Id. at 104. When she has a good day, she talks more with her mother. On bad days, she shuts down. Id. at 113. She estimated that three quarters of her days are bad.

         At some point she suffered an injury to her left hand, causing her chronic pain. Id. at 106, 110. Although not discussed in detail during her testimony, in 2004, Plaintiff suffered amputation of two fingertips (left hand) in a work-related accident. Id. at 422.

         The administrative record contains the opinions provided by Plaintiff's long-term treating physician Dr. Nickras, who began treating her in 2006. In June 2014, Dr. Nickras answered interrogatories identifying Plaintiff's diagnoses as (1) chronic neuritic pain in her left upper extremity; (2) anxiety/panic disorder; (3) depression, and (4) chronic analgesic use for chronic pain. (Doc. #7, PageID #568). Dr. Nickras opined that Plaintiff's “main problem is emotional and anxiety/panic disorders would not allow her to work in a normal work environment.” Id. at 873. Dr. Nickras noted that she did not know if Plaintiff could perform sedentary or light work, and she anticipated that Plaintiff would be absent from work an average of three times per month. Id. at 874.

         In May 2013, psychologist Dr. Griffiths interviewed and evaluated Plaintiff's mental work abilities at the request of the state agency. He diagnosed Plaintiff with major depressive disorder, recurrent, moderate; panic disorder with agoraphobia; posttraumatic stress disorder; and cocaine abuse in full remission. He explained that there is ample evidence to support diagnoses of major depressive disorder, recurrent and panic disorder with agoraphobia. Id. at 427. Dr. Griffith observed that Plaintiff was dysphoric. She displayed a downcast facial expression and looked sad and tired. She spoke slowly. She cried throughout the examination….” Id. at 425. She told Dr. Griffiths that she did not trust anybody and felt like people were out to get her. Id. at 424. She also reported that she worries, and Dr. Griffiths explained, “[s]he described symptoms associated with panic attacks including accelerated heartbeat and trembling and an overwhelming sense of fear. She estimated that she experiences one episode a week. Finally, Ms. Brown reported symptoms associated with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder including intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, avoidance and difficulty trusting others….” Id.

         Dr. Griffith opined that Plaintiff's emotional difficulties might interfere with her ability to manage more complex multi-step instructions; her emotional difficulties may interfere with her ability to pay attention and concentrate, especially over extended periods of time; “[i]n addition, the limited energy, easy fatigability, poor frustration tolerance and psychomotor retardation that often accompany depression may interfere with task persistence and pace, as well.” Id. at 427. And, among other mental-work limitations, Dr. Griffiths thought, “the stress and pressures ...

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