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Couch v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

July 19, 2018

MISTI COUCH, Plaintiff,

          Walter H. Rice District Judge


          Sharon L. Ovington United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Misti Couch applied for period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits, and Supplemental Security Income in September 2013, asserting that as of April 14, 2012, she could no longer work a substantial paid job. The Social Security Administration denied her claims initially and upon reconsideration. After a hearing, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Gregory G. Kenyon concluded that Plaintiff was not eligible for benefits because she is not under a “disability” as defined in the Social Security Act. Plaintiff brings this case challenging the Social Security Administration's denial of her applications for Social Security benefits.

         The case is presently before the Court upon Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (Doc. #7), the Commissioner's Memorandum in Opposition (Doc. #9), Plaintiff's Reply (Doc. #10), the administrative record (Doc. #6), and the record as a whole.

         II. Standard of Review

         The Social Security Administration provides Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income to individuals who are under a “disability, ” among other eligibility requirements. Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 470 (1986); see 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(a)(1), 1382(a). The term “disability”-as defined by the Social Security Act-has specialized meaning of limited scope. It encompasses “any medically determinable physical or mental impairment” that precludes an applicant from performing a significant paid job-i.e., “substantial gainful activity, ” in Social Security lexicon. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A); see Bowen, 476 U.S. at 469-70.

         Judicial review of an ALJ's non-disability decision proceeds along two lines: “whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether the findings of the ALJ are supported by substantial evidence.” Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir. 2009); see Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 745-46 (6th Cir. 2007). Review for substantial evidence is not driven by whether the Court agrees or disagrees with the ALJ's factual findings or by whether the administrative record contains evidence contrary to those factual findings. Gentry v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 741 F.3d 708, 722 (6th Cir. 2014); Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007). Instead, the ALJ's factual findings are upheld if the substantial-evidence standard is met-that is, “if a ‘reasonable mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Blakley, 581 F.3d at 407 (quoting Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004)). Substantial evidence consists of “more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance . . . .” Rogers, 486 F.3d at 241 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted); see Gentry, 741 F.3d at 722.

         The other line of judicial inquiry-reviewing the correctness of the ALJ's legal criteria-may result in reversal even when the record contains substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's factual findings. Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. 2009); see Bowen, 478 F.3d at 746. “[E]ven if supported by substantial evidence, ‘a decision of the Commissioner will not be upheld where the SSA 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, 582 F.3d at 651 (quoting in part Bowen, 478 F.3d at 746, and citing Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 546-47 (6th Cir. 2004)).

         III. Background

         Plaintiff asserts that she has been under a “disability” since April 14, 2012. She was thirty-one years old at that time and was therefore considered a “younger person” under Social Security Regulations. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(c), 416.963(c). She earned a GED-equivalent to high school education. See Id. §§ 404.1564(b)(4), 416.964(b)(4).[2]

         A. Plaintiff's Testimony

         Plaintiff testified at the hearing before ALJ Kenyon that she suffers from bipolar disorder. Id. at 91, 94. She experiences paranoia constantly-“[e]very time I go out of the house I think something is going to happen to me ….” Id. at 95. And, ‘I'm always thinking that something is going to happen in the middle of the night.” Id. at 97.

         She is irritable on a daily basis and “go[es] off” every day. Id. at 95-96. She curses and yells at her children, husband, and strangers. Id. She assaulted her husband once. Id. at 96.

         Plaintiff has trouble concentrating because her mind is constantly racing. Id. She cannot focus for long enough to watch an entire movie. Id. Her racing thoughts also inhibit her ability to sleep. Id. She only sleeps for two or three hours a night and does not nap during the day. Id.

         Plaintiff struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder. Id. She has flashbacks a couple times a day every day. Id. at 105. She has panic attacks “a couple times a week.” Id. at 104.

         Further, Plaintiff is depressed. Id. at 97. Twice a week, she has crying spells. Id. at 98. She isolates herself in her home and, a couple times a week, she will lock herself in her room to get away from her children. Id. at 97-98, 103.. She only leaves her house to go grocery shopping and she does that at two or three in the morning to avoid other people. Id. at 98. She “eliminated all of [her friends].” Id.

         Plaintiff sees her psychiatrist, Dr. Rahman, once a month and he prescribes four medications: Lexapro, trazodone, Klonopin, and Adderall. Id. at 100. She thinks he is “[s]omewhat” helpful but that her medications need to be changed. Id. at 99.

         Plaintiff has migraine headaches three to four times a week. Id. at 91. They usually last half of the day. Id. She has sensitivity to both bright light and loud noises. Id. at 92. She believes they are brought on by “[a] lot of stress.” Id. On a scale from one to ten, she rated her pain from migraines at seven. Id. at 91. She takes Tylenol and 800-milligram ibuprofen. Id. at 92.

         Plaintiff also has neck, lower back, and hip pain as the result of an automobile accident in 2011 or 2012. Id. at 92-93. She described her lower back pain as a constant shooting or sharp pain. Id. at 93. On a scale from one to ten, she rated her pain as six. Id. She used to take Vicodin but her doctors took her off of it. Id. In the past, she tried cortisone injections and physical therapy but neither helped. Id. Her neck pain, by comparison, is an achy pain-four or five on the ten-point scale. Id. at 94.

         Plaintiff lives in a house with her three children-ages 16, 11, and newborn. Id. at 89. At the time of the hearing, she had recently separated from her husband. Id. However, he still came to her house to help her with the children. Id. But “[i]f he doesn't do it right then I get upset with him and go off.” Id. at 101.

         Plaintiff is able to drive when she needs to but sometimes forgets where she is going. Id. at 89. She sometimes does not have the energy or motivation to do anything. Id. at 102-03. When she is feeling up to it, she still can only do some household chores such as dishes and straightening up. Id. at 102.

         Between August 2014 and March 2015, she had a part-time job as a bartender, working less than 15 hours a week. Id. at 90. During that short period, she missed 30 days of work. Id. She occasionally went off on customers. Id. at 99. She also screamed at her boss and coworkers. Id. Eventually, she became stressed and “couldn't handle it anymore.” Id. at 90.

         B. ...

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