United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER
Jonathan D. Greenberg, United States Magistrate Judge
Nichol Tate (“Plaintiff” or “Tate”),
challenges the final decision of Defendant, Nancy A.
Berryhill,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”), denying her applications for a
Period of Disability (“POD”), Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI
of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i),
423, and 1381 et seq. (“Act”). This
Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
and the consent of the parties, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(c)(2). For the reasons set forth below, the
Commissioner's final decision is AFFIRMED.
2014, Tate filed an application for POD, DIB, and SSI
alleging a disability onset date of February 1, 2014 and
claiming she was disabled due to depression, lupus, a brain
disorder, bipolar disorder, and a stroke. (Transcript
(“Tr.”) at 241, 248, 269.) The applications were
denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Tate requested
a hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 178, 187, 194, 199.)
22, 2016, an ALJ held a hearing, during which Tate,
represented by counsel, and an impartial vocational expert
(“VE”) testified. (Tr. 55-91.) On August 2, 2016,
the ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff was not
disabled. (Tr. 30-52.) The ALJ's decision became final on
August 12, 2017, when the Appeals Council declined further
review. (Tr. 1.)
September 21, 2017, Tate filed her Complaint to challenge the
Commissioner's final decision. (Doc. No. 1.) The parties
have completed briefing in this case. (Doc. Nos. 13 &
14.) Tate asserts the following assignment of error:
Whether the Administrative Law Judge's decision is
supported by substantial evidence when she failed to consider
whehter[sic] Plaintiff's condition meets or equals
(Doc. No. 13 at 1.)
Personal and Vocational Evidence
was born in December 1972 and was 41 years-old at the time of
her administrative hearing, making her a
“younger” person under social security
regulations. (Tr. 46.) See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1563(c) & 416.963(c). She has a high school education
and is able to communicate in English. (Id.) She has
past relevant work as a sales associate, day care center
worker, food service worker, order control clerk at a blood
bank, and a telemarketer. (Id.)
2005, Tate underwent a spinal MRI which revealed degenerative
changes in the cervical and lumbar spines and broad-based
disc protrusions in the lumbar spine. (Tr. 356.)
April 27, 2013, Tate presented to an express care facility,
reporting she has been experiencing numbness and tingling in
her hands and right arm for the past several weeks. (Tr.
346-347.) Physician's assistant George Livingston, P.A.,
noted Tate's fingers were diffusely swollen and she had
limited use of her right hand. (Tr. 348.) Mr. Livingston
ordered labwork and referred her to a specialist.
initially saw rheumatologist Marina Magrey, M.D., on June 4,
2013. (Tr. 330.) She reported a history of joint pain, chest
pain, oral ulcers, and hiradenitis (a chronic skin
condition). (Tr. 330-331.) She also relayed she had suffered
a stroke in 2002, but had minimal residual deficits in
speech, memory, and gait. (Tr. 331.) On examination, Tate had
nodules under her breasts and scars from skin procedures.
(Tr. 333.) She had tenderness in her fingers, toes, left
wrist, elbows, and knees, but full range of motion in her
hips and shoulders. (Tr. 334.) She also had a full range of
motion in her cervical and lumbar spine and no effusion in
her knees. (Id.) Dr. Magrey reviewed Tate's
blood work and concluded the results were “consistent
with connective tissue disorder.” (Tr. 335-336.) She
ordered additional labwork and prescribed steroids and
Plaquenil. (Tr. 336.)
returned to Dr. Magrey on July 6, 2013, reporting chest pain,
a cough, and pain in her knees. (Tr. 479.) On examination,
she had tenderness in her hands and knees. (Tr. 481.) She had
full range of motion in her elbows, shoulders, cervical
spine, and lumbar spine. (Id.) Her knees displayed
no effusion. (Id.) Dr. Magrey determined Tate's
“inflammatory arthritis has improved” and her
joint swelling had subsided. (Tr. 483.) She discontinued
Tate's steroids and prescribed Naproxen, Neurotin, and
August 29, 2013, Tate reported worsening joint pain and
fatigue to Dr. Magrey. (Tr. 467.) She also described some
emotional lability. (Id.) On examination, Tate had a
full range of motion in her shoulders, elbows, hips, cervical
spine, and lumbar spine. (Tr. 469.) She had slight swelling
in her wrists, with a painful range of motion. (Id.)
There was no effusion in her knees, but they were tender.
(Id.) Dr. Magrey noted Tate's bloodwork was
consistent with systemic lupus erythematosus and she renewed
Tate's medications. (Tr. 472.)
saw Dr. Magrey again on November 27, 2013, reporting pain her
knees and right wrist. (Tr. 456.) She described poor sleep,
confusion, and occasional pain in her shoulders, neck, and
right side. (Id.) On examination, Tate had
tenderness in her hands and wrists, with a painful range of
motion. (Tr. 458.) She had a full range of motion in her
shoulders, hips, elbows, cervical spine, and lumbar spine.
(Id.) Her knees and ankles were tender, but she had
no spinal tenderness. (Id.) Dr. Magrey prescribed
Savella and Plaquenil, noting Tate's symptoms were
“more consistent with fibromyalgia.” (Tr. 460.)
February 21, 2014, Tate visited rheumatologist Sonia Manocha,
M.D. (Tr. 421.) Tate relayed she was having increased
forgetfulness and throbbing back pain. (Id.) On
examination, she had tenderness in her hands and wrists, with
a painful range of motion in her wrists. (Tr. 423.) Tate had
a full range of motion in her elbows, shoulders, hips, and
lumbar spine, but her cervical spine range of motion was
limited and painful. (Id.) Dr. Manocha noted her
symptoms were “more consistent with fibromyalgia”
and ordered a cervical spine x-ray. (Tr. 425.)
March 26, 2014, Tate underwent a functional capacity
assessment with physician Janeen Masternick, D.O. (Tr.
412-418.) On examination, Tate had pain with range of motion
in “every joint of her body” and tenderness
“in every spot on her body [Dr. Masternick]
palpated.” (Tr. 416.) She had a decreased range of
motion in her cervical and lumbar spine. (Tr. 416-417.) Her
straight leg raise was negative bilaterally. (Tr. 417.) She
ambulated with an assistive device, was able to heel, toe,
and tandem walk. (Id.) Dr. Masternick noted slight
right-sided weakness, but measured 5/5 strength in Tate's
upper and lower extremities. (Id.) Tate had altered
sensation in all dermatones of her upper and lower
extremities and 18/18 fibromyalgia tender points.
(Id.) Tate was able to lift at least 15 pounds at
waist level with mild pain, but was unable to squat. (Tr.
Masternick offered the following opinion on Tate:
Based on the history and physical exam, the patient has mild
functional limitations. The patient can life/carry up to 15
pounds at the waist level frequently.
The patient can sit for a maximum of 30 minute intervals for
a maximum of 6 hours per day. She can stand for a maximum of
30 minute intervals for a maximum of 5 hours per day.
11, 2014, Tate returned to Dr. Magrey, reporting her
medications were not helpful. (Tr. 386.) She indicated she
had recently started an antidepressant, but still felt
depressed. (Id.) On examination, Tate had tenderness
in her hands and wrists. (Tr. 388.) Her lumbar spine,
shoulder, elbow, and hip range of motion were normal.
(Id.) She had a limited and painful range of motion
in her cervical spine. (Id.) Dr. Magrey encouraged
Tate to participate in aerobic activity and decreased
Tate's Lyrica dosage in hopes it would improve her
confusion. (Tr. 389.)
reported continued problems with confusion and memory, as
well as stiffness in her shoulders, on October 8, 2014. (Tr.
354.) On examination, she had tenderness in her hands and
feet. (Tr. 355.) Her hip and elbow ranges of motion were
normal. (Tr. 356.) Her shoulder range of motion was normal,
but painful. (Id.) She had a limited and painful
range of motion in her cervical spine, but her lumbar spine,
ankles, and knees were all normal on examination.
Magrey noted Tate's symptoms were concerning for
“being [a] manifestation of active mixed connective
tissue disease.” (Tr. 357.) She concluded she would
need to “restage [Tate's] disease and try to relate
which symptoms are most related to inflammation rather than
November 19, 2014, Tate visited rheumatologist Maria
Antonelli, M.D. (Tr. 536.) She described pain in her feet and
knees. (Id.) Dr. Antonelli reviewed a chest x-ray
from October 2014, which indicated no evidence of
interstitial lung disease. (Tr. 539.) X-rays of Tate's
knees revealed no significant degenerative changes. (Tr.
548.) Dr. Antonelli concluded Tate had mixed connective
tissue disease, but no clear inflammatory arthritis. (Tr.
540.) She prescribed Mobic and recommended Tate begin
physical therapy for her knees and fibromyalgia.
December 4, 2014, Tate attending a counseling session with
therapist Leanne Hardy, PCC-S. (Tr. 531.) She reported
irritability and anger. (Id.) Tate then visited
psychiatrist Jyoti Aneja, M.D. on December 12, 2014. (Tr.
518.) She indicated that while she felt better in the morning
than in the afternoon, she felt overwhelmed and stressed.
(Id.) Dr. Aneja noted Tate had a “limited
desire to discuss her symptomatology and how to get
better.” (Id.) Dr. Aneja listed Tate's
diagnoses as bipolar disorder and history of alcohol abuse.
(Tr. 519.) She prescribed Depakote and Klonopin. (Tr. 520.)
attended a physical therapy session with physical therapist
Diana Ina, P.T., on December 17, 2014. (Tr. 512.) On
examination, she had mild edema in her knees and normal
sensation. (Tr. 514.) Tate had 4/5 strength in her lower
extremities and pain with squatting. (Tr. 514, 515.) Her gait
was independent without an assistive device. (Tr. 515.)
December 14, 2015, Tate had a consultation with neurologist
Gary Kutsikovich, M.D. (Tr. 576.) She reported her 2002
stroke, along with right-sided paresthesia and confusion.
(Id.) On examination, Tate did have right-sided
weakness and decreased sensation on the right side.
(Id.) Her coordination was normal, but her gait was
hesitant. (Id.) Dr. Kutsikovich ordered a brain MRI
and EEG. (Id.) The EEG revealed left hemispheric
slowing, consistent with Tate's history of a stroke. (Tr.
578.) There was no evidence of epileptiform activity.
(Id.) The brain MRI revealed scattered predominantly
periventricular white matter hyperintensities. (Tr. 579.)
These findings were non-specific, but a demyelinating disease
could be considered. (Id.)
January 11, 2016, Tate was hospitalized due to difficulty
swallowing. (Tr. 561.) Barium swallow testing indicated no
evidence of dysphagia causing aspiration. (Tr. 651, 643.) She
began a medication regimen and her symptoms did improve. (Tr.
648.) She followed up with gastroenterologist Lubna Chaudhry,
M.D., on January 19, 2016. (Tr. 643.) At that time, Tate
indicated she was feeling better, but not “100%.”
January 18, 2016, Tate visited psychiatrist Gabriela Feier,
M.D., reporting worsening depression due to her physical
health. (Tr. 648.) Her sleep was satisfactory and she denied
suicidal ideation. (Id.)
returned to Dr. Antonelli on January 28, 2016, indicating her
pain was “mostly controlled.” (Tr. 629.) She
denied any current swelling, but reported difficulty
swallowing her medications. (Id.) Dr. Antonelli
changed Tate's Neurontin prescription to the liquid
formulation and advised her to return in 2-3 months. (Tr.
February 2, 2016, Tate visited Dr. Kutsikovich for
“bouts of confusion” and right sided paresthesia.
(Tr. 581.) She denied any abdominal problems. (Id.)
On examination, Dr. Kutsikovich noted Tate had difficulty
with complex commands, right sided weakness, and decreased
sensation on the right. (Id.) Dr. Kutsikovich
reviewed Tate's MRI and EEG and advised her to return in
one year. (Id.)
saw gastroenterologist Rosita Frazier, M.D., on February 11,
2016. She indicated she was doing “okay” since
her hospitalization. (Tr. 617.) She denied any weight loss,
was tolerating a soft diet, and had intermittent diarrhea.
(Id.) She continued to have abdominal bloating, but
it was improved. (Id.) Dr. Frazier noted Tate had a
mixed connective tissue disease with “likely global
[gastrointestinal] dysmotility.” (Tr. 619.)
March 2, 2016, Tate visited Dr. Antonelli, reporting her
liquid medications were helpful. (Tr. 600.) She described
morning stiffness, but indicated it was minimal with no
swelling. (Id.) On examination, Tate had a full
range of motion in her elbows, wrists, ankles, and knees.
(Tr. 602.) She had no swelling or tenderness in her fingers
and her grip was full. (Id.)
returned to Dr. Antonelli on April 13, 2016, with hand and
wrist pain. (Tr. 596.) On examination, she had decreased
grip, but no swelling in her hands. (Tr. 597.) Her knees were
tender and she had a full range of motion in her elbows,
knees, and wrists. (Id.) Dr. Antonelli prescribed a
short course of steroids for Tate's pain and stiffness
and recommended she have a home health assessment to
determine if she required any aids. (Tr. 598.)
State Agency Reports
August 19, 2005, in connection with a prior application, Tate
underwent a consultative examination with psychologist David
V. House, Ph.D. (Tr. 316-323.) During the examination, she
had mild word and date finding difficulties. (Tr. 317.) She
presented as “somewhat elliptical, circumstantial and
at times not well organized in manner.” (Id.)
She reported depression, crying spells, and suicidal
ideation. (Tr. 318.) She described some “mild
delusional material” to Dr. House, including sensing
her father's spirit. (Tr. 319.) Dr. House administered IQ
testing and Tate received a verbal IQ of 90, a performance IQ
of 83, and a full scale IQ of 86. (Tr. 320.) Memory testing
revealed Tate was in the 30-39 percentile. (Tr. 321.) Based
upon this examination, Dr. House diagnosed mood disorder,
PTSD, and cannabis abuse. (Tr. 322.) He assessed a Global
Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”) score of 51. (Tr.
323.) Dr. House provided the following opinion on Tate:
1. Concentration and attention are mildly limited due to
features of depression and anxiety.
2. Ability to understand and follow directions does not
appear to be limited.
3. Ability to withstand stress and pressure is moderately
limited due to features of depression and anxiety.
4. Ability to relate to others and deal with the general
public is mildly limited. She is somewhat socially isolated
due to emotional factors.
5. Level of adaptability is mildly limited. She really does
not receive psychiatric treatment.
6. Insight into her current situation and overall level of
judgment are moderately and mildly limited respectively.
underwent another consultative examination with Dr. House on
July 17, 2014. (Tr. 490-498.) Tate reported she saw a
psychiatrist for medications, but denied any current
counseling. (Tr. 492.) She described poor sleep, crying
spells, and hopelessness. (Tr. 493.) She indicated anxiety
when driving and avoidance of crowds. (Tr. ...