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Knostman v. Berryhill

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

March 28, 2018

JANET KNOSTMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ENTRY

          Sharon L. Ovington United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Janet Knostman brings this case challenging the Social Security Administration's denial of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits. After working as a nurse for over thirty years, she applied for benefits on February 3, 2014, asserting that she could no longer work a substantial paid job due to anxiety, depression, and memory loss. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Benjamin Chaykin concluded that she was not eligible for benefits because she is not under a “disability” as defined in the Social Security Act.

         The case is before the Court upon Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (Doc. #8), the Commissioner's Memorandum in Opposition (Doc. #12), Plaintiff's Reply (Doc. #13), and the administrative record (Doc. #7).

         Plaintiff seeks a remand of this case for payment of benefits or, at a minimum, for further proceedings. The Commissioner asks the Court to affirm ALJ Chaykin's non-disability decision.

         II. Background

         Plaintiff asserts that she has been under a “disability” since January 10, 2014. She was fifty-five years old at that time and was therefore considered a person of “advanced age” under Social Security Regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(e). She has a high school education. See Id. § 404.1564(b)(4).

         A. Plaintiff's Testimony

         Plaintiff testified at the hearing before ALJ Chaykin that she has been unable to work because of her short memory, anxiety, and depression. (Doc. #7, PageID #s 236-37). She has crying spells “[a]t least every other day.” Id. at 246. She loses her concentration easily-“I will actually ask a question, and someone will answer me, and I'll just kind of look at them like I don't know what they're talking about.” Id. at 236-37, 247. She has trouble making decisions. Id. at 246. When she has a task, she gets overwhelmed easily. Id. But, she is “trying to learn how to compartmentalize them and make them smaller, but [she hasn't] been able to accomplish that just yet.” Id. at 247.

         She sometimes has the feeling that she wants to end her life. Id. “I feel like I'm not contributing to my household, and I was a productive citizen … I did nursing -- hard nursing -- ICU nursing and radiology nursing, and I took care of really sick patients. And I managed a facility, and I was over the nurses. And … I just feel like I don't contribute anymore. And it's really hard to even ask for help.” Id. at 246. Plaintiff sees her counselor, Deborah Zunke every two to three weeks. Id.

         Plaintiff has some problems with her left knee. Id. at 237. It does not hurt all of the time but does if she stands for twenty minutes or more. Id. at 238. She had an arthroscopic procedure done and went to rehab. Id. She tries to remember to do therapy at home. Id. When it bothers her, she takes ibuprofen. Id. at 239. She estimated that, because of her knee, she can only lift eight to ten pounds. Id. at 249.

         Plaintiff has a neurological problem with her right hand, and although she is right handed, she tries to write with her left hand. Id. at 232-33. If she tries to do “fine motor movement things, like writing or doing something precise” with her right hand, she experiences pain. Id. at 233.

         Plaintiff last worked-about three years before the hearing-as a nurse at a vascular center. Id. at 235. Her psychological problems started causing issues at her job in 2009 but she continued to work until 2014. Id. at 248. She explained that she “just kept trying” and told herself that she could work through it. Id. She wanted to work-“I was making good money, and I was providing good care. And I cared about my patients. And to suddenly admit you don't know what you're talking about is very difficult when you've been trained to do just that.” Id. She quit because “I just felt like I was pretending. I couldn't remember things. I'd have to ask the doctors things over and over again. …” Id. at 236.

         On a typical day, Plaintiff's dogs usually wake her up in the morning. Id. at 242. Her boyfriend leaves a coffee cup, coffee, and creamer out for her so she does not get confused. Id. Her dogs' food bowls are on the counter with food in them and she adds a little broth and feeds them. Id. Her boyfriend also gets her medication out and leaves her a list of things she could or should do. Id. For example, he will note whether she has any appointments that day or whether the laundry or vacuuming needs to be done. Id. She uses the internet to do her bills almost every day. Id. at 243. She checks on them daily because she gets nervous and worries that they are not getting paid on time. Id.

         In a typical month, Plaintiff has five to six “good days.” Id. at 245. “On a good day, I can start a task and complete it. And … on a bad day, I will start a task and halfway through it start another task. It's like you go to put a shirt away and then you realize the closet's messy and then you start the closet. So by the end of the day, everything's a mess and nothing's complete.” Id. On days when she feels very nervous, she takes an anti-anxiety pill and then gets sleepy. Id.

         Plaintiff has a driver's license and usually drives a couple times a week. Id. at 234. But, because she “tend[s] to get lost easily[, ]” she typically only drives to her counselor's office and sometimes to her doctors' appointments. Id. On a good day, she may go to the grocery store. Id.

         B. Medical Opinions

         i. Polina Sadikov, M.D.

         Dr. Sadikov, Plaintiff's treating physician of twenty years, completed interrogatories on July 10, 2015. Id. at 811-19. She has treated Plaintiff for depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Id. at 812. Dr. Sadikov opined that she is not able-on a regular, sustained basis, in a routine work setting-to be prompt and regular in attendance because of the side effects of her medication and her sleep problems. Id. at 813. She is not able to respond appropriately to changes in a routine work setting or respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and customary work pressures. Id. at 814, 817. “She gets stressed and upset easily, [and] has difficulties dealing with stress.” Id. In addition, she has poor coping skills. Id. at 813. Her memory is also affected by her depression and anxiety. Id. at 815. As a result, she is not able to understand, remember, and carry out simple work instructions. Id.

         Dr. Sadikov opined Plaintiff has a moderate restriction of her activities of daily living; marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; and marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. Id. at 819. Plaintiff would, on average, be absent from work more than three times per month due to her impairments and treatment. Id.

         ii. Deborah Zunke, PCC-S

         On August 20, 2015, Ms. Zunke, Plaintiff's treating counselor, completed interrogatories and a mental impairment questionnaire. Id. at 1165-76. She indicated Plaintiff has major depression, recurrent, moderate, and panic disorder with agoraphobia. Id. at 1174. Despite Plaintiff's treatment-individual counseling-her symptoms are getting worse. Id. at 1175. However, she is having less suicidal thoughts. Id. Her prognosis is cautious. Id. Ms. Zunke opined that Plaintiff cannot be prompt and regular in attendance “due to frequent emotional disturbances that result in confusion of time management or absence.” Id. at 1167. She cannot respond appropriately to supervision and coworkers because she “becomes easily overwhelmed and overly concerned[, ] almost paranoid[, ] about [their] thoughts of her.” Id. at 1168. Additionally, she is not able to sustain attention and concentration on her work to meet normal standards of work productivity and accuracy. Id. Ms. Zunke explained, “She loses concentration frequently during counseling sessions. [Her] mind goes blank in the middle of a sentence at least one time per hour.” Id.

         Plaintiff has a marked restriction of activities of daily living; marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; and extreme difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. Id. at 1173. She would, on average, be absent from work “almost daily” due to her impairments and treatment. Id. at 1176. In an eight-hour workday, she would likely be distracted by her psychological symptoms all of the time. Id. She is not able to perform full-time-competitive work over a sustained basis without missing work more than two times per month or being off task more than fifteen percent of the work day due to her impairments, her medical appointments, and/or her treatment. Id.

         iii. Jeffrey Bishop, M.D.

         Dr. Bishop, Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, completed interrogatories and a mental impairment questionnaire on September 1, 2015. Id. at 1083-94. He diagnosed major depression and identified several of her signs and symptoms-poor memory, sleep disturbance, mood disturbances, emotional lability, difficulty thinking or concentrating, social withdrawal or isolation, decreased energy, and generalized persistent anxiety. Id. at 1092. He further explained that she “has endogenous depression with most of the neurovegetative signs.”[1] Id. Her response to treatment has been “mild to moderate” but she still has low mood, crying spells, poor concentration, and low energy. Id. Her prognosis is fair. Id.

         Dr. Bishop opined Plaintiff has a marked restriction of activities of daily living; marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; and marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. Id. at 1091. On average, she would likely be absent from work more than three times per month due to her impairments and treatment. Id. at 1094. In an eight-hour workday, she would likely be distracted by her psychological symptoms two-thirds of the time. Id. She is not able to perform full-time-competitive work over a sustained basis without missing work more than two times per month or being off task more than fifteen percent of the work day due to her impairments, her medical appointments, and/or her treatment. Id. He opined, “She has severe depression and anxiety [and] would not function well in a competitive environment.” Id. at 1084.

         iv. Donald J. Kramer, Ph.D.

         Dr. Kramer evaluated Plaintiff on April 8, 2014. Id. at 577-81. He diagnosed major depression, recurrent, and generalized anxiety disorder. Id. at 580. Her prognosis “appears to be uneven.” Id. He observed during the exam that Plaintiff's affect was depressed and she was tearful off and on. Id. at 579. Additionally, she “was somewhat tense, nervous, and anxious with pressured speech ….” Id.

         Dr. Kramer opined that Plaintiff was of average intelligence. Id. at 581. He noted she has a bachelor's degree in nursing and worked for thirty years. Id. However, she reported that during the last several years, “her concentration[, ] focus[, ] and short-term memory became impaired to the point that she was making mistakes on the job, and she attributes this to her increased levels of anxiety and depression.” Id. He opined that she “appears to have the intellectual ability to perform simple as well as multi-step tasks. Her concentration, attention, persistence and pace were adequate in [the] examination.” Id. But, Plaintiff reported that she is “very distractible” and “can no longer perform multi-step tasks[.]” Id. Further, “her high level of emotional distress was affecting her work performance.” Id.

         v. Jerry E. ...


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