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Harris v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

November 17, 2017

Ruie Ellen Harris, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          James L. Graham, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Ruie Ellen Harris brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §§405(g) for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. In a decision dated November 19, 2015, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found that plaintiff had severe impairments consisting of schizoaffective disorder depressive type, and post-traumatic stress disorder. PAGEID 65. After considering the entire record, the ALJ found that plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) would permit her to perform work at all exertional levels, but

work is limited to simple routine and repetitive tasks in a work environment free of fast paced production requirements involving only simple work related decisions with few, if any, work place changes, only brief and superficial interaction with [the] public, only occasional interaction with co-workers, no tandem tasks, [and] only occasional interaction with supervisors.

         PAGEID 66. After considering the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ decided that there were jobs which plaintiff could perform and that plaintiff was not disabled. PAGEID 69-70.

         This matter is before the court for consideration of plaintiff's November 6, 2017, objections to the October 23, 2017, report and recommendation of the magistrate judge recommending that the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed. The government has filed a response to the objections.

         I. Standard of Review

         If a party objects within the allotted time to a report and recommendation, the court “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). Upon review, the court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         The court's review “is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's decision ‘is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards.'” Ealy v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 594 F.3d 504, 512 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007)); see also, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.”). Put another way, a decision supported by substantial evidence is not subject to reversal, even if the reviewing court might arrive at a different conclusion. Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986). Even if supported by substantial evidence, however, “‘a decision of the Commissioner will not be upheld where the [Commissioner] fails to follow its own regulations and where that error prejudices a claimant on the merits or deprives the claimant of a substantial right.'” Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 746 (6th Cir. 2007)).

         II. Objections

         A. RFC Determination

         Plaintiff argues that the RFC formulated by the ALJ failed to specifically address plaintiff's limitations in the areas of concentration, persistence, pace, and social functioning as discussed in the November 19, 2013, report of consulting psychologist Kevin J. Edwards, Ph.D., the December 6, 2013, report of state agency psychologist Vicki Warren, Ph.D., and the March 29, 2014, report of state agency psychologist Robyn Hoffman, Ph.D. The court agrees with the magistrate judge's analysis of the RFC, and with her conclusion that this objection is not well taken.

         A claimant's RFC is the most that a claimant can do despite his or her limitations. 20 U.S.C. §404.1545(a)(1). Disability is determined by the functional limitations imposed by a condition, not the mere diagnosis of it. Hill v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 560 F.App'x 547, 551 (6th Cir. 2014). In making the RFC determination, the ALJ must evaluate all the medical evidence as well as the claimant's testimony. Webb v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 368 F.3d 629, 633 (6th Cir. 2004). The ALJ, not a medical expert, ultimately determines the claimant's RFC. Coldiron v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 391 F.App'x 435, 439 (6th Cir. 2010); 20 C.F.R. §§404.1527(e)(2) and 404.1546(c). An ALJ's decision to give weight to medical opinion evidence does not require the ALJ to incorporate every restriction proposed by the medical source. Salisbury v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 5:11-CV-2277, 2013 WL 427733, *7 (N.D. Ohio Feb. 1, 2013). The ALJ is not required to describe the claimant's limitations using the exact language of those medical sources as long as substantial evidence demonstrates that the ALJ adequately portrayed the claimant's limitations in the RFC. See Smith-Johnson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 579 F. App'x 426, 436 (6th Cir. 2014).

         Dr. Edwards noted in his report that plaintiff had mild impairment with new learning, and that she “may have some difficulty with more detailed instructions.” PAGEID 384. Dr. Edwards also concluded that plaintiff's mental conditions resulted in moderate impairment which “would interfere with persistence and pace[.]” PAGEID 384. Dr. Edwards further noted that, although plaintiff got along with coworkers, had good social skills, and had no history of problems with supervisors, “she likely would have an unfavorable response in groups, becoming fearful and wanting to flee.” PAGEID 384. Dr. Edwards also noted that during the examination, the “essentially untreated symptoms of GAD [General Anxiety Disorder] and Dysthemic Disorder created a loss of energy, slow cognitive processing, [and] psychomotor retardation, and caused emotional reactions. It is my opinion that these symptoms would increase as perceived stress increased.” PAGEID 384. None of these reported impairments were phrased in terms of a specific job restriction, nor did Dr. Edwards express the opinion that any of these impairments would preclude plaintiff from working.

         Dr. Warren concluded that plaintiff is “capable of low stress jobs in a setting that does not require working in tandem w/other employees” and that she could “make simple work related decisions.” PAGEID 107. She observed that plaintiff “remain[s] capable of simple work in a low stress environment.” PAGEID 110. Dr. Hoffman opined that plaintiff “is capable of simple, repetitive tasks in a setting that does not require working in tandem w/other employees or fast-pace or filling large quotas.” PAGEID 133. She further observed that plaintiff “is limited to occas'l superficial social interactions in a less public setting” and that plaintiff can “make simple work related decisions in a ...


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