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Stamper v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

May 8, 2019


          Christopher A. Boyko Judge.


          James R. Knepp II United States Magistrate Judge.


         Plaintiff Marla Ann Stamper (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint against the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to deny disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). (Doc. 1). The district court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1383(c) and 405(g). This matter has been referred to the undersigned for preparation of a report and recommendation pursuant to Local Rule 72.2. (Non-document entry dated March 27, 2018). Following review, and for the reasons stated below, the undersigned recommends the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed.

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed for DIB in July 2014, alleging a disability onset date of January 17, 2014. (Tr. 196-97). Her claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 108, 119). Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 126). Plaintiff (represented by counsel), and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified at a hearing before the ALJ on March 14, 2017. (Tr. 35-78). On June 26, 2017, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled in a written decision. (Tr. 13-28). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the hearing decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-7); see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955, 404.981. Plaintiff timely filed the instant action on March 27, 2018. (Doc. 1).

         Factual Background

         Personal Background and Testimony

         Born in 1970, Plaintiff was 43 years old on her alleged onset date. See Tr. 27, 196. In a disability report, she alleged disability due to depression, stress, anxiety, and migraines. (Tr. 235). She stated she stopped working due to her conditions in January 2014. Id.

         Plaintiff testified to migraine headaches four to five times per month, as well as daily headaches. (Tr. 48-49). She also testified daily life was “a struggle” and some days she did not want to get out of bed. (Tr. 49). She avoided crowded places due to anxiety. (Tr. 49-50). She testified to racing thoughts, irritability, and constant worrying. (Tr. 50-51). Plaintiff had tried a “simple data entry” job but stated she could not do it due to nervousness and stress. (Tr. 54-55). ]

         Relevant Medical Evidence[1]

         In November 2014, State agency psychologist Michael E. Cremerius, Ph.D., reviewed Plaintiff's records and offered an opinion. (Tr. 85-88). He stated Plaintiff had mild restrictions in activities of daily living and maintaining social functioning; she had moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr. 85). He opined Plaintiff “[w]ould be capable of performing simple, routine tasks in a job with no strict production quotas or fast paced expectations” and should be limited to “[s]uperficial contact with the public.” (Tr. 88). He found Plaintiff was “not significantly limited” in her ability to accept instructions and criticism from supervisors, or get along with coworkers. Id.

         In April 2015, State agency psychologist Cindy Matyi, Ph.D., reviewed Plaintiff's records and offered an opinion. (Tr. 99-103). She stated Plaintiff had mild restriction of activities of daily living, and moderate difficulties in social functioning and concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr. 99). She opined Plaintiff was “able to comprehend and remember simple (1-2 step) and occasional complex (3-4 step) instructions.” (Tr. 101). Dr. Matyi opined Plaintiff's concentration and pace were “variable” and that “[s]he would need some flexibility in terms of time limits and production standards.” (Tr. 102). She thought Plaintiff could “relate adequately on a superficial basis in an environment that entails infrequent public contact, minimal interaction with coworkers, and no over-the-shoulder supervisor scrutiny.” (Tr. 102). Finally, she opined that workplace “[c]hanges should be well-explained and introduced slowly.” (Tr. 103).

         VE Testimony

         At the hearing, the VE testified that an individual of Plaintiff's age, education, experience and RFC could perform work as a linen room attendant, janitor, or housekeeper. (Tr. 73-74). The VE testimony is addressed in more significant detail below with respect to Plaintiff's second argument.

         ALJ Decision

         In a written decision dated June 26, 2017, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2020 and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of January 17, 2014. (Tr. 15). The ALJ then concluded Plaintiff had severe impairments of major depressive disorder, anxiety, and chronic headaches, but that these impairments - singly or in combination - did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. (Tr. 15-16). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: able to complete simple routine tasks, have no interaction with the public, occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors, and would need low stress such that there would be occasional changes made and occasional decision making required; would be absent from work one day per month.

(Tr. 19). Based on this RFC, the ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work, but - based on the testimony of the vocational expert - Plaintiff could perform other jobs in the national economy such as linen room attendant, janitor, and motel/hotel housekeeper. (Tr. 26-28). Therefore, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 28).

         Standard of Review

         In reviewing the denial of Social Security benefits, the Court “must affirm the Commissioner's conclusions absent a determination that the Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standards or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.” Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Besaw v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 966 F.2d 1028, 1030 (6th Cir. 1992). The Commissioner's findings “as to any fact if supported by substantial evidence shall be conclusive.” McClanahan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). Even if substantial evidence or indeed a preponderance of the evidence supports a claimant's position, the court cannot overturn “so long as substantial evidence also supports the conclusion reached by the ALJ.” Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 477 (6th Cir. 2003).

         Standard for Disability

         Eligibility for benefits is predicated on the existence of a disability. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(a), 1382(a). “Disability” is defined as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a); see also 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Commissioner follows a five-step evaluation process-found at 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520-to determine if a claimant is disabled:

1. Was claimant engaged in a substantial gainful activity?
2. Did claimant have a medically determinable impairment, or a combination of impairments, that is “severe, ” which is defined as one which substantially limits an ...

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