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Waddell v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

January 22, 2018

PATRICIA D. WADDELL, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          James L. Graham Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KIMBERLY A. JOLSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Patricia D. Waddell filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking review of an unfavorable decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying her applications for Title II benefits and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income disability benefits. 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

         Plaintiff filed her applications for Title II benefits and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income disability benefits on November 7, 2013, alleging that she has been disabled since September 27, 2013, due to arthritis in her feet and back pain. (Tr. 214-21, 250, PAGEID #: 260-67, 297). Plaintiff's claims were denied initially on March 11, 2014 (Tr. 80-95, PAGEID #: 124-39; Tr. 96-111, PAGEID #: 140-55), and upon reconsideration on July 7, 2014 (Tr. 114- 29, PAGEID #: 158-73; Tr. 130-45, PAGEID #: 174-89). She filed a Request for Hearing on July 21, 2014. (Tr. 159-60, PAGEID #: 204-205).

         Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”) Robert H. Schwartz held an administrative hearing by video conference on March 2, 2016. (Tr. 48-77, PAGEID #: 91-120). On April 29, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff benefits (Tr. 25-46, PAGEID #: 68-89). On May 12, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review and adopted the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision. (Tr. 1-7, PAGEID #: 44-50).

         Plaintiff filed this case on July 9, 2017, and the Commissioner filed the administrative record on September 11, 2017. (Doc. 9). Plaintiff filed a Statement of Specific Errors on November 9, 2017 (Doc. 12), and the Commissioner responded on December 26, 2017 (Doc. 14). Plaintiff did not file a reply.

         A. Relevant Medical Evidence

         This case concerns the ALJ's evaluation of the mental health evidence. Hence, the Court's review of the evidence is limited to the mental health opinions.

         1.Dr. Sarver

         On referral from the Division of Disability Determination (“DDD”), clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist Gary S. Sarver, Ph.D. conducted a psychological evaluation of Plaintiff on February 10, 2014, and completed a corresponding report on February 13, 2014. (Tr. 569, PAGEID #: 617). During that appointment, Plaintiff expressed that she is unable to work because of a back impairment, and she applied for DDD services because her “husband is on it.” (Id.).

         Dr. Sarver noted that Plaintiff's independent living skills appeared “to be adequate and she does participate in the day-to-day demands of living including shopping, bill paying, household management, and childcare.” (Tr. 570, PAGEID #: 618). Plaintiff indicated that she has no friends and stated that “people make [her] nervous.” (Tr. 571, PAGEID #: 619). Plaintiff reported past work in a laundry and a glass factory; and as a cashier. (Id.). Plaintiff “[got] along okay” with her supervisors and coworkers. (Id.). When asked about the public, Plaintiff stated, “I don't want to be around no one.” (Id.).

         Dr. Sarver noted Plaintiff has no history of treatment by a mental health specialist. (Id.). When Dr. Sarver asked Plaintiff why she was depressed, she responded “I don't know.” (Tr. 571, PAGEID #: 619). Plaintiff also indicated that she “is angry” at herself “7 days a week.” (Tr. 572, PAGEID #: 620). Dr. Sarver ultimately found that:

[t]he data presently available … suggests a diagnosis of adjustment disorder with anxiety and depression. This accounts for her weight gain, diminished energy, disturbed sleep, depression, and affective instability. It also accounts for her avoidance of others and her desire to be alone. This is exacerbated by her apparent low level of intellectual functioning and poorly developed coping skills which limits her ability to adaptively manage her stress and anxiety. She apparently channels psychological concerns and complaints into somatic issues.
Nevertheless, she is able to accomplish her [activities of daily living] independently and adequately. She was able to recall a detailed and extensive personal, family, and work history. She had no significant difficulties with digit recall or word recall. She reported no significant problems functioning in the work place although she was fired for missing work on one occasion. She generally got along reasonably well with supervisors and coworkers.

(Tr. 574, PAGEID #: 622).

         Dr. Sarver concluded his report with Plaintiff's functional assessment:

Claimant's abilities and limitations in understanding, remembering, and carrying out instructions:


Her apparent below average level of intellectual functioning suggests that she should have no particular difficulty in understanding, remembering, or carrying out simple job instructions. She is likely to experience consistent difficulties as the job instructions become increasingly complex. Her depression and anxiety, and poor coping skills, may attenuate her ability to carry out complex job instructions.
The claimant's abilities and limitations in maintaining attention and concentration, and in maintaining persistence and pace, to perform simple tasks and to perform multistep tasks:


She demonstrated no significant problems during the interview of having difficulty with attentional pace or persistence. She had no significant problem with digit recall or word recall and she was able to recall a detailed and extensive personal, family, and work history. She does appear capable of engaging in her ADLs independently and adequately. Her depression and anxiety, in conjunction with her poor coping skills, may attenuate her capacity to reliably perform multistep tasks.
The claimant's abilities and limitations and responding appropriately to supervision and coworkers in a work setting:


Historically, she has manifested no particular difficulty getting along with supervisors and coworkers in the work place. Her depression and anxiety may episodically attenuate this capacity.
The claimant's abilities and limitations in responding appropriately to work pressures in a work setting:


She is likely to have difficulty organizing, structuring, and working towards goals. She is likely to have difficulty containing her anger, managing her frustration, and controlling her impulses. She is likely to depend upon other people and/or situations to structure life for her. Her poor coping skills limit her capacity to deal with the complexities and demands of the normative work situation. Her usual remedy is to exit the job situation or avoid it. She has a particularly difficult time with self-comfort and appropriately managing her anxiety and depression.

(Tr. 574-75, PAGEID #: 622-23).

         2.Dr. Haskins and Dr. Lai

         Non-examining psychologist Dr. Kristen Haskins completed a mental residual capacity assessment on February 27, 2014. (Tr. 106-108, PAGEID #: 150-52). Dr. Haskins opined that Plaintiff is moderately limited in her ability to understand and remember detailed instructions. (Tr. 107, PAGEID #: 151). Dr. Haskins specified that Plaintiff “retains the ability to perform one to four step tasks.” (Id.). She also found Plaintiff has moderate limitations in sustained concentration and persistence, stating that Plaintiff “retains the ability to perform simple one to four step tasks in a setting without strict production quotas and occasional contact with others as well as no need for close sustained focus/concentration.” (Tr. 108, PAGEID #: 152).

         Dr. Haskins determined that Plaintiff is markedly limited in her ability to interact appropriately with the public and moderately limited in her ability to accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism and in her ability to get along with coworkers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes. (Id.). However, Dr. Haskins determined that ...


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