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Meecha v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 27, 2018

BRIAN J. MEECHA, Plaintiff,




         Plaintiff, Brian J. Meecha, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his application for social security disability insurance benefits. This matter is before the United States Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation on Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (ECF No. 14), the Commissioner's Memorandum in Opposition (ECF No. 15), and the administrative record (ECF No. 9). Plaintiff did not file a Reply. For the reasons that follow, it is RECOMMENDED that the Court OVERRULE Plaintiff's Statement of Errors and AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff protectively filed his application for benefits in June 2011, alleging that he has been disabled since February 9, 2007, due to bipolar disorder, depression, and social anxiety disorder. (R. at 208-13, 236.) Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff sought a de novo hearing before an administrative law judge. Following an initial hearing on April 2, 2013, Administrative Law Judge Edmund E. Giorgione (the “ALJ”) issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (R. at 116-22.)

         On August 7, 2014, the Appeals Council subsequently vacated and remanded ALJ Giorgione's decision. (R. at 128-30.) Plaintiff and a vocational expert appeared and testified at the subsequent administrative hearing. On June 16, 2015, the ALJ again issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (R. at 21- 30.) On March 29, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review and adopted the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision. (R. at 1-5.) Plaintiff then timely commenced the instant action.


         A. Plaintiff's Testimony

         Plaintiff testified at the February 3, 2015, administrative hearing that he last worked driving a Zamboni at an ice rink for 5 years. (R. at 45.) He testified that his most severe problems were “just dealing with people, communicating with people, and anger issues and mood swings up and down . . . .” (R. at 46.) Plaintiff testified that prior to getting treatment, he would have “[a]rguments and stuff with family members and friends and pretty much just I couldn't control my anger. And, you know, one day I wake up happy and then later on in the day, I'm just distraught or just not feeling right. And my-I always describe it as I can-it's like the racing thoughts are so much that you can-it's racing so fast-it's racing faster than you can speak.” (R. at 47.) He found working with others stressful which led to confrontations; if he “felt like I was right, then an argument would pursue [sic].” (Id.) At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff did not feel he was improving. (R. at 48.)

         Plaintiff also testified that he turned the television on a lot “to have noise in the background.” (R. at 49.) His mind would wander, noting he could “usually stay on task for about 5 to 15 minutes before I start thinking about something else or other thoughts start racing through my head.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff next testified that if he went somewhere, he “usually tend[s] to go there when I think there's not going to be a lot of people there, which is usually around 11:00 before lunch and then 1:00 or 2:00 after lunch.” (R. at 50.) Plaintiff testified that in 2012, his mother supported him and that, around the house, he would mow the lawn and do dishes and sweep. (R. at 51.)

         When he was in school, Plaintiff testified that he did not talk to fellow students. (R. at 53.) When they had group projects, he “really didn't want to work with them, and I'd try to do my own thing.” (Id.) He explained, “I don't work well with other people. I just don't. Never have.” (Id.) He also testified that he has “never slept well” and has tried sleeping pills, but they rarely work. (Id.) Plaintiff testified as to his medication changes and/or increases over the years noting that, “I don't think it's something you can medicate away. You can't medicate a person's thoughts away.” (R. at 55.)

         B. Vocational Expert Testimony

         Carl Hartung testified as the vocational expert (the “VE”) at the supplemental administrative hearing. (R. at 56-61.) The VE identified Plaintiff's past relevant work as a Zamboni operator, classified as a skating rink ice maker, a medium, unskilled position. (R. at 57.) The ALJ proposed a series of hypotheticals regarding Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to the VE. (R. at 57-59.) Based on Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience and the RFC ultimately determined by the ALJ, the VE testified that Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work, but that he has no transferrable skills. (R. at 57-58.) The VE also testified the hypothetical individual could perform approximately 1, 063 medium exertion, unskilled jobs in the regional economy, with 6, 495 in the state and 155, 732 nationally, such as a laboratory equipment cleaner, salvage laborer, and sexton (an individual who performs custodial and cleaning work in a church). (R. at 58-59.)


         A. T. Rodney Swearingen, Ph.D.

         On July 14, 2011, Dr. Swearingen evaluated Plaintiff for disability purposes. (R. at 338-43.) Plaintiff reported that he has less contact with his neighbors than he used to because he is more secluded. (R. at 340.) Plaintiff also reported waking up by 9:00 a.m. everyday, taking care of his dogs, going to the store, getting food at a drive-thru, hosting friends, and cleaning the house with his mother, although she does the shopping because he would “mess it up.” (Id.) On mental status examination, Plaintiff exhibited inconsistent eye contact, a moderately dysphoric and anxious mood, psychomotor agitation, and limited insight and judgment. (R. at 340-41.) He reported feelings of nervousness and anxiety. ( 341.) Plaintiff reported he does not socialize often and that his mother does the shopping, although he also reported he goes to the store. (R. at 340.) Dr. Swearingen diagnosed bipolar disorder (not otherwise specified), depressive disorder (not otherwise specified), and social phobia. (R. at 342.) He assigned Plaintiff a Global Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”) score of 50.[1] (Id.)

         Dr. Swearingen opined that Plaintiff would have difficulty responding appropriately to others in the work setting and responding to stress in the work setting effectively. (Id.) Dr. Swearingen also opined that Plaintiff can “applying instructions requiring average intellectual functioning if he is shown what to do, otherwise he may have difficulty.” (R. at 343.) He further opined that Plaintiff's concentration and persistence is “good, ” his pace on task is “average, ” and he is “fair” at performing repetitive tasks, giving him the “ability to perform simple and multi-step tasks.” (Id.)

         B. Y. Kristine Tsai, M.D.

         Plaintiff treated with primary care physician, Dr. Tsia since at least February 2002. (R. at 356.) In October 2011, Plaintiff reported poor sleep and racing thoughts. (R. at 346.) He also reported recent increased stress, which he believed made his symptoms worse. (Id.) Dr. Tsai assessed bipolar disorder and prescribed Seroquel. (Id.) The following month, Dr. Tsai found Plaintiff “significantly more stable, ” but Plaintiff reported that his medications became less effective at the end of the day. (R. at 345.) Dr. Tsai increased Plaintiff's Seroquel dose. (Id.) By April 2012, Plaintiff reported feeling a bit worse in recent weeks, with racing thoughts and irritability, as well as poor sleep and distractibility. (R. at 364.) Dr. Tsai increased Plaintiff's Seroquel dose. (Id.) Dr. Tsai reported that Plaintiff had “followed up with me today in an office visit for re-check of his Bipolar [disorder]. The recent stressors in his life are making symptoms worse; he is currently being treated with Seroquel and we had to increase the dose today.” (R. at 368.) In May 2012, Plaintiff reported that he had been recently incarcerated for three days and unable to take his medication; Dr. Tsai re-started Plaintiff's Seroquel. (R. at 363.)

         C. John L. ...

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