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Isenhart v. Berryhill

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

August 25, 2017

RALPH ISENHART, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1], ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GEORGE J. LIMBERT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Ralph Isenhart (“Plaintiff”) requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration (“Defendant”) denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). ECF Dkt. #1. In his brief on the merits, filed on November 21, 2016, Plaintiff asks the Court to review whether the administrative law judge (“ALJ”): (1) violated the treating physician rule; and (2) erred in the determination that he did not meet Listing 12.05C. ECF Dkt. #14 at 9-14. On January 20, 2017, Defendant filed a response brief. ECF Dkt. #16. Plaintiff did not file a reply brief.

         For the following reasons, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the ALJ and dismisses the instant case in its entirety with prejudice.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed his application for SSI in August 2011. ECF Dkt. #10 (“Tr.”) at 363.[2] In his application, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning on February 1, 2011. Id. This claim was denied initially in May 2013 after the ALJ held hearings in November 2012 and December 2012. Id. at 80, 133, 200. Plaintiff requested review of the decision by the Appeals Council, and in September 2014, the Appeals Council remanded the application to the ALJ for further administrative proceedings. Id. at 220. In March 2015, Plaintiff appeared for a hearing before the ALJ. Id. at 44. On April 30, 2015, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application for SSI. Id. at 20. Subsequently, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. Id. at 1. Accordingly, the decision issued by the ALJ on April 30, 2015, stands as the final decision.

         On July 14, 2016, Plaintiff filed the instant suit seeking review of the ALJ's decision. ECF Dkt. #1. Plaintiff filed a brief on the merits on November 21, 2016. ECF Dkt. #14. Defendant filed a response brief on January 20, 2017. ECF Dkt. #16. Plaintiff did not file a reply brief.

         II. SUMMARY OF RELEVANT PORTIONS OF THE ALJ'S DECISION

         In the decision issued on April 30, 2015, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 10, 2011, the date of his application for SSI. Tr. at 25. Continuing, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: coronary artery disease; asthma; hypertension; depression; and borderline intellectual functioning. Id. The ALJ stated that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. When making this determination, and when addressing Listing 12.05, the ALJ discussed Plaintiff's: activities of daily living; social functioning; concentration, persistence, or pace; and episodes of decompensation.[3] Id. at 26-27.

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff had mild restriction in his activities of daily living. Tr. at 26. Continuing, the ALJ stated that a function report completed in September 2011 indicated that Plaintiff reported that he cared for his personal needs, prepared simple meals, did laundry or chores, and performed his own shopping. Id. The ALJ next noted that at the hearing held in December 2012, Plaintiff stated that he cooked in a crock-pot, kept his house clean, and watched television. Id. Additionally, the ALJ indicated that Plaintiff reported that he performed his own grocery shopping at the March 2015 hearing. Id.

         Regarding social functioning, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had moderate difficulties. Tr. at 26. The ALJ noted that Plaintiff testified that a friend took him to the hearing held in March 2015, and that a friend found him a job at a big-box store. Id. Continuing, the ALJ stated that Plaintiff also testified that he visited his son, daughter-in-law, niece, and nephew, and indicated in the functional report that he enjoyed playing with his grandchildren. Id. The ALJ also noted that Plaintiff testified that he did not like being around others and that he went grocery shopping at night when there are fewer people at the grocery store. Id. Additionally, the ALJ indicated that a consultative examiner, Deborah Koricke, Ph.D., noted that Plaintiff demonstrated difficulty relating to others at the examination, and stated that he was somewhat depressed and difficult to engage because he put forth minimal effort. Id.

         Moving on to concentration, persistence, or pace, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had moderate difficulties. Tr. at 27. The ALJ cited another consultative examiner, Andrea Johnson, Psy.D., who concluded that Plaintiff's ability to maintain attention, concentration, persistence, and/or pace was moderately impaired. Id. Continuing, the ALJ stated that Dr. Johnson felt that Plaintiff's ability to withstand stress and the pressures associated with day-to-day work activity was moderately impaired. Id. The ALJ also indicated that Dr. Koricke noted that Plaintiff's level of attention and concentration throughout the examination was adequate, but he put forth minimal effort and refused to persist. Id. Additionally, the ALJ indicated that Dr. Koricke stated that Plaintiff's work pace was within normal limits. Id. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff did not experience any episodes of decompensation of extended duration. Id.

         Continuing, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have a mental incapacity evidenced by dependence upon others for his personal needs, as he was able to care for himself and follow directions (as evidenced by his ability to take standardized tests). Tr. at 27. Further, the ALJ stated that Plaintiff did not have a “valid verbal, performance, or full-scale IQ of sixty through seventy and a physical or other mental impairment imposing an additional and significant work-related limitation of a function.” Id. at 28. For these reasons, that ALJ found that Plaintiff did not meet the criteria of Listing 12.05C.

         After consideration of the record, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b), except that he could: never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; occasionally crawl; frequently kneel and crouch; and constantly balance or stoop. Tr. at 28. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff must avoid jobs that involved concentrated exposure to extreme cold, heat, humidity, and/or respiratory irritants. Id. Continuing, the ALJ stated that Plaintiff was limited to unskilled work where he could understand, remember, and carry out instructions, and work in a simple routine-type work environment without strict time or fast paced performance demands (noting that goal-oriented type work was acceptable). Id. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff could frequently work with others on a superficial basis, defined as speaking or signaling to take instructions, carry out instructions, ask questions, and serve. Id. In addition, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff could not collaborate with, mentor, or be responsible for the safety of others. Id.

         After explaining the RFC finding, the ALJ stated that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. Tr. at 33. The ALJ indicated that Plaintiff was a younger individual on the date the application was filed, and subsequently changed age category to closely approaching advanced age. Id. at 34. Continuing, the ALJ stated that Plaintiff had a marginal education, was able to communicate in English, and that the transferability of job skills was not an issue because Plaintiff's past relevant work was unskilled. Id. Considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, that ALJ determined that jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. Id. For these reasons, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since August 10, 2011, the date his application for SSI was filed. Id. at 35.

         III. STEPS TO EVALUATE ENTITLEMENT TO SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS

         An ALJ must proceed through the required sequential steps for evaluating entitlement to social ...


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