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Tonnous v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

February 16, 2018


          Michael H. Watson Judge.



         Plaintiff, Mona Jane Tonnous, filed this action seeking review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her Title II Social Security Disability Benefits and XVI Supplemental Security Income Disability applications. For the reasons that follow, it is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (Doc. 13) be OVERRULED, and that judgment be entered in favor of Defendant.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Prior Proceedings

         Plaintiff filed applications for Title II Social Security Disability Benefits and Title XVI Supplemental Security Disability Benefits on September 17, 2010, alleging disability since October 1, 2005. (See Doc. 9-3, Tr. 127-28 PAGEID #: 173-74). Her applications were denied initially, after reconsideration, and by an Administrative Law Judge. (Id., Tr. 189, 191, PAGEID #: 235, 237). By order dated September 2, 2014, the Appeals Council remanded the case for further proceedings. (Doc. 9-3, Tr. 256, PAGEID #: 210).

         Following the remand, Administrative Law Judge Kristen King (the “ALJ”) convened a video remand hearing on November 19, 2015, at which time Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to September 1, 2010. (Doc. 9-2, Tr. 41-76, PAGEID #: 86-121). On March 9, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (Id., Tr. 15, PAGEID #: 60). Plaintiff again requested review of the administrative decision to the Appeals Council (id., Tr. 7, PAGEID #: 52), which denied her request on March 7, 2017, and adopted the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision (id., Tr. 1, PAGEID #: 46).

         Plaintiff filed this case on May 8, 2017 (Doc. 3), and the Commissioner filed the administrative record on July 11, 2017 (Doc. 9). Plaintiff filed a Statement of Specific Errors (Doc. 13), the Commissioner responded (Doc. 15), and Plaintiff filed a Reply (Doc. 16).

         B. Relevant Medical Background

         On May 13, 2015, Plaintiff saw Dr. Stephen Scrimenti, a licensed psychologist, for issues with depression. (Doc. 9-8, Tr. 1079, PAGEID #: 1130). Dr. Scrimenti's treatment notes from that appointment state that Plaintiff was receptive and positively engaged. (Id.). At another appointment on June 10, 2015, Dr. Scrimenti stated that Plaintiff was eating and sleeping better and that her “depression ha[d] lifted to a significant degree.” (Id., Tr. 1080, PAGEID #: 1131). On September 1, 2015, Dr. Scrimenti again noted that Plaintiff's mood had lifted, and that Plaintiff “appeared well-nourished with a positive appetite, is sleeping well, using medication appropriately, continues to help her mother and father, caretaker for her sickly husband, and parents her child.” (Id., Tr. 1081, PAGEID #: 1132). At that time, Plaintiff “denied any current problems with depression or anxiety” and her response to intervention was “positive.” (Id.). On October 6, 2015, Dr. Scrimenti opined that Plaintiff “continues to experience depression especially in the context of a recent car accident (along with her persistent back pain)” but also that Plaintiff's response to intervention was positive. (Id., Tr. 1083, PAGEID #: 1134).

         On November 3, 2015, Dr. Scrimenti completed a Mental Impairment Questionnaire. (Id., Tr. 1086, PAGEID #: 1137). In the Questionnaire, Dr. Scrimenti stated that Plaintiff's prognosis was “poor” and checked the boxes indicating Plaintiff presented with fourteen different symptoms, but offered no explanation or elaboration. (Id., Tr. 1087-88, PAGEID #: 1138-39). In terms of functional limitations, Dr. Scrimenti checked that Plaintiff had marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace and that Plaintiff had experienced 4 or more episodes of decompensation within the last 12 months. (Id., Tr. 1089, PAGEID #: 1140). Ultimately, Dr. Scrimenti checked the box that said Plaintiff's impairments would require her to be absent from work more than four days per months and that she was incapable of working 8 hours a day, 5 days per week. (Id., Tr. 1090-93, PAGEID #: 1141-44).

         C. Relevant Testimony at the Administrative Hearing

         When asked why Plaintiff believed she was unable to work, Plaintiff stated “[m]y back won't allow me, and physically and mentally I'm not able to hold down a job.” (Doc. 9-2, Tr. 49, PAGEID #: 94). Plaintiff then explained a typical morning routine: wake up around 6:00 or 7:00 a.m., make coffee and toast for breakfast, sit on the couch with her coffee and “watch a little TV, go “for a little walk, ” and lay down for a half hour to forty-five minutes around 11:00 a.m. (Id., Tr. 50, PAGEID #: 95). Next, Plaintiff will “[f]ix something for lunch, maybe a sandwich, set the table and eat, and then sit on the couch for a little bit, watch a little TV, wait on [her] [nine-year old] son to get home from school while cooking, trying to get supper ready for him.” (Id., Tr. 50-51, PAGEID#: 95-96). Plaintiff explained that, after dinner, she watches TV with her son, helps with his homework, and maybe plays a board game for 10 to 20 minutes before he goes to bed. (Id., Tr. 54, PAGEID #: 99).

         In terms of household chores, Plaintiff stated that she and her husband both do the dishes, do the laundry together once a week, and grocery shop together about once a month. (Id., Tr. 51-53, PAGEID #: 96-98). Plaintiff testified that she has no problems interacting with other customers or cashiers at the store. (Id., Tr. 52, PAGEID #: 97). Plaintiff also stated that she sees her parents “[a]bout every day” and travels to their house. (Id., Tr. 65, PAGEID #: 110). Plaintiff later testified, however, that she “just don't like to be around a lot of people. I don't like to talk to a lot of people.” (Id., Tr. 64, PAGEID #: 109). Plaintiff also testified that she has panic attacks about once a month. (Id., Tr. 66, PAGEID #: 111).

         D. The ...

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