United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division
DECISION AND ENTRY
L. OVINGTON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Stacey Shoop applied for Supplemental Security Income on
April 15, 2014, asserting she could no longer work due to her
mental impairments and hepatitis C. Her application was
denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff
requested a hearing, after which Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ) Elizabeth A Motta concluded that she was not eligible
for benefits because she is not under a
“disability” as defined in the Social Security
brings this case challenging the Social Security
Administration's denial of her application for
Supplemental Security Income. She 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
Motta's non-disability decision.
case is before the Court upon Plaintiff's Statement of
Errors (Doc. #11), the Commissioner's Memorandum in
Opposition (Doc. #15), Plaintiff's Reply (Doc. #16), and
the administrative records (Doc. #s 6, 10).
April 2014, when Plaintiff filed her application for
benefits, she was forty-three years old and was therefore
considered a “younger person” under Social
Security Regulations. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.963(c). She has a high school education. See Id.
testified at the hearing before ALJ Motta she is unable to
work because of her anxiety. (Doc. #10, PageID
#793). When she is anxious, she feels “uncomfortable in
[her] skin … and shaky a little bit.”
Id. at 805. She also has manic bipolar disorder.
Id. at 797.
has trouble concentrating. Id. at 803. She
explained, “my mind goes pretty quick and then I crash,
and I have to sleep … for a few hours. I get started
on things and then I can't finish them.”
Id. at 793. She takes medication and it helps her
some. Id. She testified that she “can't
not be on medication.” Id. at 797. However,
her psychiatrist left and his replacement took her off one
her medications. Id. at 794. She does not think her
new doctor is good for her and hopes to find a new
psychiatrist. Id. at 794-95.
acknowledged her history of substance abuse. Id. at
798. She has been incarcerated seven times-all related to
drugs. Id. at 793. To her credit, at the time of the
hearing, she had not used drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes for
four years and three months. Id. at 798.
asked if she looked for work after her most recent release
from prison, Plaintiff testified that she did at first but
not recently because “[n]ot a whole lot of people like
my [criminal] record.” Id. at 799. Since her
release, “my main goal is to stay off drugs …
and get my mental health in order.” Id. at
lives with her fourteen-year-old son and his godfather.
Id. at 790. She is able to prepare simple meals and
do laundry. Id. at 799, 805. She drives about every
other day. Id. at 790-91. However, she does not like
to drive long distances or at night. Id. at 804. She
has no problems going to the store or shopping. Id.
at 799. She attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings
approximately three times per week and regularly attends
church. Id. at 801-02. She does not have a lot of
friends. Id. at 800.
Darke County Mental Health Providers
2014, Plaintiff's treating therapist, Dianna E. Burgess,
MS, PC, opined in a letter to Job & Family Services that
Plaintiff was unable to work “due to the nature of her
symptoms and demonstrates the need to continue working to
stabilize and regain her typical functioning in the
community.” (Doc. #6, PageID #601).
months later, in October 2014, Irfan Dahar,
M.D.-Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist-and Ms. Burgess
completed a Mental Impairment Questionnaire. Id. at
628-31. Dr. Dahar diagnosed Bipolar I Disorder, Anxiety
Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (NOS), Polysubstance
Dependence, and Personality Disorder NOS. Id. at
628. He opined that Plaintiff is markedly impaired in
numerous areas of work-related mental functioning, including,
for example, her ability to understand, remember, and carry
out detailed instructions; maintain attention and
concentration for extended periods; and work in coordination
with others without being distracted by them. Id. at
630-31. Further, she would likely be absent from work more
than three times a month due to her impairments and
treatment. Id. at 630.
2015, Ms. Burgess opined that Plaintiff “suffers with
moderate to severe mood episodes and distress situations with
her anxiety.” Id. at 731. Further, she
struggles with focus and has difficulty maintaining
consistency in daily routines, schedules, and tasks.
Id. She has “[m]oderate to severe
difficulty” being around others because of social
discomfort and the presence of mental health symptoms.
September 2015, Phillip A. Hash, D.O., who also provided
medication management to Plaintiff, and Ms. Burgess completed
a Mental Impairment Questionnaire. Id. at 733-37. He
noted that Plaintiff “experiences frequent mental and
physical agitations, mood changes/variations, irritability,
depression, and anxiety.” Id. at 735. Further,
she “is fairly motivated for treatment and appears to
be very responsive to medication management/psychiatric
services and individual treatment.” Id. He
opined that she has marked deficiencies of concentration,
persistence, or pace resulting in failure to complete tasks
in a timely manner. Id. at 736. She would likely
miss work at least three times per month because of her
impairments or treatment. Id.
December 2015, Ms. Burgess opined that Plaintiff was
“substantially affected” in all areas of
work-related mental functioning. Id. at 739-40. She
explained that Plaintiff has a “history of chronic and
pervasive mental health symptoms and issues, which
continuously impact her in her daily functioning and limit
her in her abilities. Id.
March 2016, Ms. Burgess described the “wide
spectrum” of Plaintiff's mood swings: “At
times, she has presented as ‘low' in her mood with
overt depressive symptoms, sadness, and feelings of being
overwhelmed by life and all of its responsibilities. At other
times, she has presented as very ‘high,' exhibiting
strong traits of mania, with rapid and pressured speech, a
tangential thought process, and seemingly impulsive thoughts,
words, and actions.” Id. at 777. Plaintiff
“has worked diligently to maintain her treatment with
individual therapy, psychiatric services, and medication
management.” Id. Although she tries to
“maintain her typical life responsibilities and
tasks” (she keeps a planner and makes herself reminders
of what she needs to do), she struggles and “still
often falls short in being able to do these things as
efficiently and effectively as needed.” Id. at
777-78. Ms. Burgess concluded, “Ms. Shoop is deserving
of support and would greatly benefit from any additional
support that she is provided with in her life. She clearly
exhibits the motivation and drive of someone wanting to
receive and utilize appropriate help and puts forth great
effort to be a healthy person. For all of her efforts, it
appears that she continues to struggle in her life due to her
mental health symptoms and issues.” Id. at
Vicki Warren, Ph.D./Mary K. Hill, Ph.D.
9, 2014, Dr. Warren reviewed Plaintiff's record on behalf
of the state agency. Id. at 116-26. She found that
Plaintiff had two non-severe impairments-“Other and
Unspecified Arthropathies” and Personality Disorder-and
two severe impairments-Affective Disorder and Anxiety
Disorder. Id. at 120. She opined that Plaintiff had
mild restrictions in her activities of daily living; moderate
difficulties in social functioning; moderate limitations in
concentration, persistence and pace; and no episodes of
decompensation of extended duration. Id. at 121. Dr.
Warren adopted the Mental Residual Functional Capacity
assessment from the July 21, 2011 administrative decision
under Drummond v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 126 F.3d
837 (6th Cir.1997) and Acquiescence Ruling 98-4(6).
Id. at 124.
Hill reviewed Plaintiff's record on December 29, 2014,
and did not adopt the prior assessment. Id. at 133.
Dr. Hill noted that Plaintiff's psychological symptoms
will limit her concentration, persistence, and pace and her
ability to tolerate normal work pressure. Id. at
137. She is limited to performing one-to-four-step tasks with
no more than moderate pace or production quotas in a static
environment where changes are explained and gradually
introduced. Id. at 137-38. Dr. Hill, observing that
Plaintiff has problems with irritability and was diagnosed
with a personality disorder, opined that her interactions
with others need to be on a superficial level with no
conflict resolution or persuading others. Id. at
Standard of Review
Social Security Administration provides 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. § 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.
§ 1382c(a)(3)(A); see Bowen, 476 U.S. at
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.
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