United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
CHERYL A. KERNS, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
Patricia A. Gaughan Judge.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
R. KNEPP II UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Cheryl A. Kerns (“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 May 23, 2018). Following
review, and for the reasons stated below, the undersigned
recommends the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed.
filed for DIB in March 2012, alleging a disability onset date
of June 1, 2009. (Tr. 196-98). Her claims were denied
initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 110-13, 128-30).
Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative
law judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 135-36). Plaintiff
(represented by counsel), and a vocational expert
(“VE”) testified at a hearing before the ALJ on
August 12, 2014. (Tr. 32-65). On December 9, 2014, the ALJ
found Plaintiff not disabled in a written decision. (Tr.
11-26). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review, making the hearing decision the final decision of
the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-4); see 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.955, 404.981. Plaintiff filed a timely
complaint against the Commissioner on May 25, 2016 in the
Northern District of Ohio. See Kerns v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., No. 1:16-cv-1264 (N.D. Ohio) (Doc. 1). On
November 4, 2016, the parties filed a joint motion to remand
the case, see id. at Doc. 16, which the Court
granted, id. at Doc. 18; Tr. 1073.
(again represented by counsel) and a VE testified at a remand
hearing before the ALJ on July 19, 2017. (Tr. 971-1019). On
September 6, 2017, the ALJ again found Plaintiff not disabled
in a written decision. (Tr. 941-53). The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the hearing
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr.
924-29); see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955,
404.981. Plaintiff timely filed the instant action on May 23,
2018. (Doc. 1).
Background and Testimony
was born in July 1967, making her 41 years on her alleged
onset date. (Tr. 68). She alleged disability due to
depressive disorder, opiate induced mood disorder, asthma,
obesity, scoliosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
(“COPD”). See id.
had a high school education and a certificate in welding.
(Tr. 37-38). She had past work as a cab driver (Tr. 38), and
a machinist (Tr. 39). Plaintiff attended approximately two or
three years of college, but dropped out due to poor grades as
a result of memory issues. (Tr. 978-79).
2014 hearing, Plaintiff believed that her most limiting
impairment was posterior tibial tendon dysfunction in her
feet and her cervical stenosis which affected her balance.
(Tr. 43-44). Plaintiff also suffered from, inter
alia, anxiety and depression. (Tr. 51). Plaintiff
started mental health treatment in 2012 but believed she
“should have been getting treatment for a long [time]
before [she] started”. (Tr 52). Plaintiff's
symptoms included a lack of motivation, decreased energy,
appetite fluctuations, and a loss of interest in social
interaction. (Tr. 52-53). Plaintiff testified her depression
also caused difficulties with concentration and focus, noting
she would “disappear” in the middle of
conversations. (Tr. 54). By way of example, she described
pulling out of a funeral procession because she “forgot
what [she] was doing”. Id.; see also
also had anxiety. (Tr. 55). She could handle “a
little” shopping, but perspired and hyperventilated if
the store became crowded or there were children crying
nearby. Id. She had anxiety attacks approximately
two to five times per month. Id. At home,
Plaintiff's anxiety was triggered by arguments with her
lived alone. (Tr. 56). On a typical day, she woke around
10:00 a.m. and cared for her dogs and cat. Id.
Plaintiff's son came over “just about every
day” and assisted her with lifting objects and putting
away groceries. Id. There were days where Plaintiff
did not feel like getting out of bed. (Tr. 57).
time of the 2017 hearing, Plaintiff still lived alone, but
her son helped with yard work and housework, including
cooking and cleaning. (Tr. 980). She drove a car and
sometimes made brief grocery store trips. Id.
testified that psychiatrist Dr. Brojmohun, and later
psychiatrist Dr. El-Sayegh treated her for major depressive
disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. (Tr. 999). She
attempted suicide in 2011 by ingesting pills (Tr. 1001),
which led her to start mental health treatment with Ms.
Grippi, a nurse practitioner. (Tr. 1000-01). Plaintiffs
mental impairments caused her to stay at home most of the
time and affected her ability to concentrate on things such
as television or reading. (Tr. 1002-03). Plaintiff had
anxiety when around groups of people and did not socialize.
(Tr. 1003-05). She had difficulty remembering things and
wrote herself reminder notes “all the time”. (Tr.
1005). Plaintiff reported trying many different medications
and noted she was “kind of stable now”, meaning
that her depression was unchanged. (Tr. 1001-02).
December 18, 2011, Plaintiff walked into to the emergency
room and reported that she intended to commit suicide by
ingesting sleeping pills, but her son had stopped her. (Tr.
334). Plaintiff appeared oriented and cooperative, but had
suicidal ideation. Id. Providers transferred
Plaintiff to Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare
(“Northcoast”) for inpatient psychiatric care
(Tr. 336), where she remained hospitalized for ten days,
see Tr. 370 (discharge summary).
at Northcoast, Plaintiff told Rajeet Shrestha, M.D., that she
had a “bad few years”. (Tr. 370). She cited
financial pressures and noted her home was in foreclosure.
Id. She became increasingly depressed, hopeless and
helpless. Id. Plaintiff reported no prior
psychiatric treatment or psychotropic medications.
Id. She was cooperative and compliant with
treatment. (Tr. 371). Her mood was “still somewhat
depressed and fragile” at the beginning of her hospital
stay. Id. At discharge, Plaintiff was alert and
oriented, with regular speech, a “good” mood;
euthymic affect, goal-directed thoughts, good insight and
judgment, and no suicidal ideation. (Tr. 372). Dr. Shrestha
diagnosed depressive disorder (not otherwise specified, rule
out major depressive disorder), alcohol dependence, opioid
dependence, nicotine dependence, asthma, obesity, and chronic
pain; she assigned a Global Assessment of Functioning
(“GAF”) score of 65. (Tr. 372). She was prescribed
several medications on discharge. Id.
January 2012, Plaintiff saw Patricia Grippi, M.S.N.,
A.P.R.N-B, at Signature Health for a psychiatric evaluation.
(Tr. 382). Plaintiff reported depression, chronic pain,
reliance on alcohol and street drugs for pain, insomnia,
anxiety, fear, loss of interest and motivation, loss of
self-esteem, and difficulty concentrating. Id. Ms.
Grippi observed Plaintiff to be “sloppily
dressed” and disheveled. Id. Plaintiff had
good eye contact and a logical thought process, but never
smiled, and had spontaneous pressured speech. Id.
She denied suicidal ideation, had good concentration and
memory, and had fair judgment, knowledge, and insight.
Id. Ms. Grippi adjusted Plaintiff's medications
and referred her for individual counseling and case
management. (Tr. 383). Later that month, Plaintiff reported
decreased depression with no suicidal thoughts. (Tr. 386).
She was taking classes at Kent State University and recently
took in her previously-homeless bipolar 23-year-old son.
Id. Plaintiff reported she “motivated herself
enough to clean up a bedroom” in her home for him and
was working hard to cope with his irritability and temper.
Id. On examination, Plaintiff had good eye contact,
smiled frequently, and was open with her feelings; she had a
logical and organized thought process, good concentration,
and fair insight, judgment, and knowledge. Id.
February 2012, Plaintiff returned to Ms. Grippi, reporting
she continued to feel depressed, but did not have suicidal
thoughts. (Tr. 391). Ms. Grippi found Plaintiff had good eye
contact, smiled appropriately, and had spontaneous coherent
speech; she had a logical and organized thought process, good
concentration and memory, and fair insight, judgment, ...