United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Western Division
Eric L. Joseph, Plaintiff,
Nancy C. Berryhill,  Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
G. Carr, Sr. U.S. District Judge.
a Social Security case in which the plaintiff, Eric Joseph,
appeals the Commissioner's decision denying his
application for disability insurance benefits (DIB).
administrative law judge (ALJ) found Joseph was not under a
disability and, as a result, denied plaintiff's claim for
benefits. In the present case, plaintiff challenges the
is the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation
(R&R), which recommends affirming the ALJ's decision
denying benefits and dismissing plaintiff's case with
prejudice. (Doc. 20).
objects to the R&R and asks that I overrule the R&R
and reverse the ALJ's decision. (Doc. 21).
following reasons, I adopt in full the R&R, and I affirm
the ALJ's decision.
served in the United States Army from 2001 to 2005. During
his active military service, plaintiff suffered an injury in
an Iraq combat zone when a vehicle in which he was a
passenger crashed into a bus, causing plaintiff's body to
plaintiff's active-duty military service, the United
States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) found him eligible
to receive veterans' benefits due to his service-related
injuries. Specifically, plaintiff testified that he received
a 90% service disability.
received the majority of his medical treatment through the VA
for the following diagnoses: depressive disorder, ankle
instability, morbid obesity, tobacco dependence,
hyperlipidemia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),
gastroesophagael reflux disorder, neck pain, migraines,
alcohol abuse, and cannabis abuse. During that time,
plaintiff's medical treatment included: medications;
counseling; psychiatric care; anger management therapy;
alcohol and drug therapy; couples therapy; residential PTSD
rehabilitation program; physical therapy; and
post-military work included employment with a private defense
contractor as an aviation mechanic/aircraft electrician.
Plaintiff testified he was let go from that job in August,
2009, because of his PTSD symptoms.
8, 2015, plaintiff applied for DIB with the Social Security
Administration (Administration). Plaintiff asserted he had
been under a “disability, ” as defined by the
Social Security Act (SSA), beginning June 25, 2013.
Specifically, plaintiff claimed a traumatic brain injury
caused memory loss, bad knees and ankles, degenerative disc
disease in his back, neck pain, tinnitus, nerve damage and
numbness in his hands and legs, anxiety, depression, panic
attacks, mood disorder, and breathing difficulties.
Administration denied plaintiff's application initially
and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff then requested and
received an administrative hearing on February 11, 2016. An
ALJ conducted the hearing and questioned plaintiff and a
testified he injured his cervical spine in an accident while
in the service. According to plaintiff, his spinal injury
caused several physical impairments, including migraine
headaches, numbness in his hands, light sensitivity, vertigo,
ankle and knee instability, tinnitus in both ears, and
difficulty with walking, standing, lifting, and gripping.
Plaintiff also testified about the effect of his PTSD,
describing anxiety attacks, sweating, heart palpitations,
nightmares, and unpredictable changes in his emotions and
respect to plaintiff's testimony about his physical and
mental impairments, the ALJ made a credibility determination,
After careful consideration of the evidence, I find that the
claimant's medically determinable impairments could
reasonably be expected to cause some of the alleged symptoms;
however, the claimant's statements concerning the
intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms
are not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and
other evidence in the record for the reasons explained in
this decision. The claimant's testimony and the medical
evidence of record does suggest he retains the ability for
performing work-related activities within the limitations set
forth in the residual functional capacity assessment of the
prior Administrative Law Judge.
October, 2013, the VA assessed plaintiff's disability
rating as follows: 10% for limited motion of the ankle; 10%
for inflammation of sciatic nerve; 20% for degenerative
arthritis of the spine; 10% for limited flexion of the knee;
10% for lumbosacral or cervical strain; 10% for tinnitus; 30%
for migraine headaches; 20% for inflammation of lower
radicular nerves; and 30% for PTSD.
the hearing, the ALJ issued her decision, concluding that
plaintiff was not under a disability and, therefore, not
entitled to DIB. To reach that conclusion, the ALJ followed
the SSA's five-step evaluation with respect to plaintiff
and his impairments. See 20 C.F.R. §
the ALJ found that plaintiff last met the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2015.
then found that plaintiff did not engage in substantial
gainful activity from June 25, 2013-the alleged onset
date-through December 31, 2015-the date last insured.
ALJ's more significant findings began with her conclusion
that through the date last insured, plaintiff suffered from
the following severe impairments: history of cervical
spondylosis/cervical degenerative disc disease; chronic back
pain due to degenerative arthritis with radiculopathy;
history of right ankle fracture, currently stable; reported
knee and ankle pain; migraine headaches; tinnitus; episodic
mood disorder/depression; PTSD; anxiety; history of alcohol
dependence with episodic abuse pattern; cannabis abuse
currently in remission; obesity; mild thoracic degenerative
changes; and severe opioid use disorder, currently in
plaintiff's impairments, according to the ALJ, did not
automatically constitute a disability.
then assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(RFC). Doing so, the ALJ found that despite plaintiff's
impairments, he could perform less than a full range of light
work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b).
Specifically, the ALJ found that plaintiff could: lift,
carry, push and pull up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10
pounds frequently; sit up to six hours in an eight-hour
workday; and walk/stand, in combination, up to six hours in
an eight-hour work day-with the following limitations:
The claimant requires a sit/stand option that allows for
alternating between sitting and standing up to every 30
minutes if needed, but the positional change will not render
the individual off task. The claimant can never climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and can occasionally climb ramps
and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The
claimant cannot perform any forceful grasping or gripping
with the hands. He requires the ability to avoid concentrated
exposure to wetness and hazards (such as wet/slippery
surfaces, dangerous moving machinery, and unprotected
heights. He can have no concentrated exposure to
bright/flashing lights and loud noise. Mentally, the claimant
cannot understand, remember, or carry out detailed or complex
job instructions but can perform simple, repetitive tasks on
a sustained basis (meaning 8 hours a day, five days a week,
or an equivalent work schedule) with no sudden or
unpredictable workplace changes. The claimant cannot perform
tasks requiring intense/focused attention for prolonged
periods of time and must have work at a flexible pace (where
the employee is allowed some independence in determining
either the timing of different work activities or the pace of
work). The claimant can have only casual/superficial
interactions with others, including supervisors, coworkers,
and the general public with no exposure to intense or
limitations, according to the ALJ, prevented plaintiff from
performing any past work but did not prevent him from
performing a significant number of jobs available in the
national economy. As a result, the ALJ concluded plaintiff
was not under a disability.
The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for
review, making the ALJ's decision final.
On September 9, 2016, plaintiff filed suit in this Court,
seeking review of the ALJ's decision.
In the R&R, the Magistrate Judge recommends I affirm the
ALJ's decision denying benefits.
objects to the R&R based on three arguments-the ALJ erred
by: 1) failing to give proper consideration to the VA's
90% disability rating; 2) failing to consider the effect of
plaintiff's impairments in combination; and 3) failing to
grant plaintiff credibility based on his military service.
reasons that follow, I adopt the Magistrate Judge's
R&R and affirm the ALJ's decision.
reviewing a Magistrate Judge's R&R, I make a de
novo determination regarding the portions to which
plaintiff objects. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
reviewing the Commissioner's decision, I must determine
whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's findings
and whether the ALJ applied the proper legal standards.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Brainard v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 889 F.2d 679,
681 (6th Cir. 1989) (citing Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).
not “try the case de novo, nor resolve
conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of
credibility.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). If
substantial evidence supports it, I must affirm the ALJ's
decision, even if I would have decided the matter