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Artmayer v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 23, 2017




         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 Benefits application. 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         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, PAGEID #:393).

         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 ...

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