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Holman v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 6, 2019


          Vascura, Magistrate Judge

          OPINION & ORDER


         This matter comes before the Court on the Magistrate Judge's February 20, 2019 Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 15), which recommended that Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (ECF No. 10) be OVERRULED and that the Commissioner's decision be AFFIRMED. This Court hereby ADOPTS the Report and Recommendation in its entirety based on an independent consideration of the analysis therein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income on December 9, 2014, alleging disability since October 21, 2014. (ECF No. 15 at 1). Plaintiff's application was denied at first and again when reconsidered. (Id.). After the second denial, Plaintiff sought de novo review from an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id.). The ALJ held a hearing on January 17, 2017 and then, in an April 5, 2017 decision, found Plaintiff not to be disabled under the Social Security Act. (Id.). In his decision denying Plaintiff benefits, the ALJ followed the required five-step sequential analysis for disability-benefits claims. (Id. at 8); See C.F.R. § 416.920(a).[1] Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council to review this decision but it denied the request and affirmed the ALJ's decision on March 17, 2018. (Id.). On October 24, 2018, Plaintiff filed his Statement of Specific Errors with this Court, seeking to have his case remanded. (ECF No. 10). The Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation regarding Plaintiff's alleged errors on February 20, 2019 and recommended that this Court overrule the Statement of Specific Errors and affirm the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 15).

Plaintiff timely filed his Objection to the Report and Recommendation on March 6, 2019. (ECF No. 16). He raises two objections. First, that the ALJ did not properly evaluate the opinions of the treating source doctors; and second, that the appeals council did not properly consider the medical source statement provided to them. (Id.).

While incarcerated, Plaintiff was subject to a pre-screen assessment by Dr. Princess Cripe, a psychiatrist, who concluded that he was “unable to engage in substantial gainful activity.” (ECF No. 15 at 21). However, Plaintiff's treatment records in prison indicate that Plaintiff remained stable and controlled his symptoms. (Id.). He had two jobs in prison and did not have any disciplinary issues while in general population. (Id.). Also, he underwent a second pre-screen that found him ineligible for benefits because he was doing well in general population. (Id.).

         Plaintiff began meeting with Dr. Jay Lee, a psychiatrist, on January 6, 2015 and regularly met with him for about a year. (ECF No. 15 at 3-4). Initially, Dr. Lee noted that the symptoms of Plaintiff's depression were not properly controlled and that Plaintiff had some suicidal thoughts. (Id. at 3). However, in subsequent visits, Dr. Lee almost always described Plaintiff's progress as “stable, ” found his judgment, memory, orientation, and thought process to be normal, and remarked that his symptoms were under control when he was on medication. (Id. at 4). At the end of his evaluation of Plaintiff, Dr. Lee marked a box on the form that indicated that he thought Plaintiff could not properly function up to half of the time for any given workday or workweek in most work-related activities and also remarked that the Plaintiff could not work because he had been fired from a job six or seven years prior. (Id. at 19).

         Dr. Earl Greer, a psychologist, treated Plaintiff between May 2015 and December 2016. (Id. at 5). Dr. Greer found Plaintiff to be agoraphobic and paranoid and Plaintiff frequently discussed his violent dreams and inner voices encouraging him to commit violent acts with Dr. Greer. (Id. at 5-6). In a December 2, 2015 letter, Dr. Greer wrote that Plaintiff's depression, anxiety, and easy irritation would prevent him from being able to function in a workplace. (Id. at 6). In a checkbox form, Dr. Greer indicated that Plaintiff would be markedly limited in his work-related mental functions and that he would be unable to function up to a quarter of the time he would be working. (Id. at 17, 19). Dr. Greer justified this opinion only by saying that Plaintiff was “emotionally unstable.” (Id. at 19).

         Plaintiff submitted as new evidence to the Appeals Council a medical source statement from Dr. Tarcisio Gacheru, D.N.P. dated January 12, 2018. (Id. at 9). This statement posited that Plaintiff was moderately or markedly impaired in his social interaction, concentration, and persistence. (Id. at 10). Though the document is dated2018, Dr. Gacheru claims that the opinions it contains date back to 2014. (Id. at 13). The Appeals Council rejected the statement as immaterial, not convincing them that the ALJ was wrong. (Id. at 12).


         Upon objection to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, this Court must “make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). This de novo review, in turn, requires the Court to “determine whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence to support the ALJ's decision” and to “determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal criteria.” Inman v. Astrue, 920 F.Supp.2d 861, 863 (S.D. Ohio 2013). Substantial evidence means relevant evidence that “a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Ealy v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 594 F.3d 504, 512 (6th Cir. 2010) (quotation omitted). Substantial evidence constitutes “more than a mere scintilla, but only so much as would be required to prevent judgment as a matter of law against the Commissioner if this case were being tried to a jury.” Inman, 920 F.Supp.2d at 863 (citing Foster v. Bowen, 853 F.2d 483, 486 (6th Cir. 1988)).


         A. Treating Source ...

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