United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
J. LIMBERT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Julie Mathias (“Plaintiff”) requests judicial
review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security Administration (“Defendant”) denying her
application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). ECF Dkt. #1. In her brief on the merits,
filed on December 11, 2016, Plaintiff asserts that the
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) failed to state
a valid reason for rejecting the opinion of her treating
physician. ECF Dkt. #15 at 11-20. Defendant filed a response
brief on February 17, 2017. ECF Dkt. #18. On March 1, 2017,
Plaintiff filed a reply brief. ECF Dkt. #19.
following reasons, the Court REVERSES the ALJ's decision
and REMANDS Plaintiff's case for an evaluation of the
opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician in accordance
with the treating physician rule.
filed her application for SSI in October 2013. ECF Dkt. #12
(“Tr.”) at 172. In her application, Plaintiff
alleged disability beginning on February 18, 2012.
Id. The claim was denied initially and upon
reconsideration. Id. at 112-19. Following the
denial, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, which
was held on August 17, 2015. Id. at 35. On September
1, 2015, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application for SSI.
Id. at 16. 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 September 1, 2015, stands as the final decision.
August 19, 2016, Plaintiff filed the instant suit seeking
review of the ALJ's decision. ECF Dkt. #1. Plaintiff
filed a brief on the merits on December 11, 2016. ECF Dkt.
#15. Defendant filed a response brief on February 17, 2017.
ECF Dkt. #18. On March 1, 2017, Plaintiff filed a reply
brief. ECF Dkt. #19.
SUMMARY OF RELEVANT PORTIONS OF THE ALJ'S
decision issued on September 1, 2015, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since October 21, 2013, the date of her application for SSI.
Tr. at 21. Continuing, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had
the following severe impairments: multiple sclerosis
(“MS”); cervical degenerative disc disease;
contraction of the visual field in better eye; depression;
post-traumatic stress disorder; panic disorder; and alcohol
abuse. Id. The ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have
an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of the listed impairments in
20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id.
consideration of the record, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 416.967(b), except she: could not climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; must avoid workplace hazards,
such as unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery;
could not perform commercial driving; must avoid concentrated
exposure to temperature extremes of hot and cold; could not
work with vibrating hand tools; was limited to simple,
routine tasks that did not involve arbitration, negotiation,
confrontation, directing the work of others, or being
responsible for the safety of others; could not perform rate
work or assembly line work; and could use frequent depth
perception. Tr. at 23-24.
discussing her RFC, the ALJ addressed the opinion of
Plaintiff's treating physician, Timothy Carrabine, M.D.
See Tr. at 27-28. Dr. Carrabine limited Plaintiff
to: lifting less than five pounds for one-third of the day;
and standing/walking for less than one hour total during the
day, and less than twenty minutes at a time. Id. at
27. Continuing, the ALJ stated that Dr. Carrabine indicated
that Plaintiff would need to take an unscheduled break every
hour, but did not need to use a cane. Id. The ALJ
indicated that Dr. Carrabine limited Plaintiff to performing
manipulations and reaching less than ten percent of the day.
Additionally, the ALJ stated that Dr. Carradine opined that
Plaintiff would be off task more then twenty-five percent of
the day and would miss more than four days of work per month.
then indicated that little weight was afforded to Dr.
Carrabine's opinion as to Plaintiff's physical
limitations as the opinion was not supported by the
conservative treatment, a lack of multiple hospitalizations,
the MRI results, and Plaintiff's activities of daily
living. Tr. at 27. Continuing, the ALJ stated that
Plaintiff's activities of daily living did not support
her allegations regarding her MS, as she had: lived with her
eighty-one -year-old grandmother since 2013 and provided
“a lot of care for her grandmother”; went to the
grocery store; washed the laundry; talked with her friends on
the phone; read and watched television; prepared simple
meals; performed light housework; shopped for personal items;
and socialized with friends a few times a week. Id.
Additionally, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff did not drive, but
this was because her license had lapsed rather than on the
order of any of her doctors. Id.
also addressed the form Dr. Carrabine completed regarding
Plaintiff's mental limitations. Tr. at 28. According to
the ALJ, Dr. Carrabine opined that Plaintiff was essentially
unable to perform in many areas, including: remembering work
procedures; understanding detailed instructions; maintaining
attention and concentration; performing activities within a
schedule; working in coordination or in proximity to others;
accepting instructions and criticism from supervisors;
responding appropriately to changes; traveling to unfamiliar
places; and setting realistic goals. Id. The ALJ
stated that Dr. Carrabine opined that Plaintiff would miss
work more than four days a month, would need four unscheduled
breaks a day, and would be off task twenty percent of the
day. Id. After describing Dr. Carrabine's
opinion, the ALJ stated that the opinion was being afforded
no weight since Dr. Carrabine was not a mental health
professional and did not treat Plaintiff's mental health
problems. Id. Continuing, the ALJ stated that while
Dr. Carrabine may have had some insight on Plaintiff's
cognitive deficits due to her MS, his extreme opinion was
inconsistent with her conservative treatment, activities of
daily living, and the medical evidence of record.
Id. The ALJ concluded his discussion of Dr.
Carrabine's opinion regarding Plaintiff's mental
limitations by stating, “[a]n individual with such
drastic mental limits would presumably not be able to care
for an 81-year-old woman.” Id.
the ALJ indicated that Plaintiff had no past relevant work,
was a younger individual on the date her application for SSI
was filed, had at least a high school education, and was able
to communicate in English. Tr. at 29. The ALJ stated 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, the ALJ found that jobs existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
could perform. Id. After making the above finding,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since
October 21, 2013, the date her application for SSI was filed.
Id. at 30.
STEPS TO EVALUATE ENTITLEMENT TO SOCIAL SECURITY
must proceed through the required sequential steps for
evaluating entitlement to social ...