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Williams v. Berryhill

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

July 9, 2019

KIMBERLY G. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Comm'r of Soc. Sec., Defendant.

          JAMES G. CARR, JUDGE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          DAVID A. RUIZ, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Kimberly G. Williams (hereinafter “Plaintiff”), challenges the final decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (hereinafter “Commissioner”), denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. (“Act”). This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This case is before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to an automatic referral under Local Rule 72.2(b) for a Report and Recommendation. For the reasons set forth below, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Commissioner's final decision be AFFIRMED.

         I. Procedural History

         On March 3, 2015, Plaintiff filed her applications for SSI, alleging a disability onset date of March 3, 2015.[1] (Transcript (“Tr.”) 194-199). The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 124-137). Plaintiff participated in the hearing on June 21, 2017, was represented by counsel, and testified. (Tr. 26-65). A vocational expert (“VE”) also participated and testified. Id. On October 2, 2017, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 21). On April 13, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request to review the ALJ's decision, and the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. (Tr. 1-5). On June 7, 2018, Plaintiff filed a complaint challenging the Commissioner's final decision. (R. 1). The parties have completed briefing in this case. (R. 10 & 12).

         Plaintiff asserts the following assignment of error: (1) whether the application of Acquiescence Ruling 98-4(6) and ensuing adoption of the mental limitations contained in a prior administrative decision is supported by substantial evidence. (R. 10, PageID# 573).

         II. Evidence

         A. Relevant Medical Evidence [2]

         1. Treatment Records

         On January 7, 2015, Plaintiff was seen for a follow up by Carlos G. Lowell, D.O. (Tr. 354-355). Plaintiff reported that her psychiatric symptoms were overall stable, but reported being upset because she lent some family members money, but they did not pay it back. (Tr. 354). She also reported diminished sleep with a lower dose of Remeron. Id. She also reported being sober. Id. . Dr. Lowell concluded Plaintiff's bipolar disorder and polysubstance dependence were relatively stable, and continued her Seroquel prescription unchanged, but increased her Remeron dosage. Id.

         On September 22, 2015, Plaintiff complained of depression and anxiety to Carol Krieger, PMHCNS.[3] (Tr. 357). She further reported shakiness, racing thoughts, difficulty with concentration, sadness, and anxiety attacks causing her to isolate. Id. She reported drinking pop, a pot of coffee, and smoking two packs of cigarettes per day. Id.

         On October 13, 2015, Plaintiff reported that her medications were working, and she was sleeping better. (Tr. 359). She reported reducing her caffeine and alcohol intake. Id.

         On March 22, 2016, Plaintiff reported to nurse Krieger that she was stable on medications without side effects. (Tr. 447). Her medications were continued unchanged. Id.

         On May 9, 2016, Plaintiff underwent a court ordered alcohol and drug (AOD) assessment after being charged with possession of marijuana and paraphernalia in April of 2016. (Tr. 449). Plaintiff has tested positive for morphine, and she admitted taking non-prescription Vicodin. Id. She identified herself as an alcoholic, but asserted that her daily drinking has been reduced to only six drinks in the past several months. Id. Plaintiff reported currently taking Wellbutrin, Seroquel, and Remeron as prescribed by nurse Krieger. Id. She reported “doing well other than getting depressed about her money situation. Reports she has been waiting on disability for several years which upsets her.” Id. She further reported episodes of crying, disliking being around others, difficulty trusting others, difficulty concentrating, scattered thoughts, and constant worrying. (Tr. 449-450). The counselor referred Plaintiff for group and individual counseling. (Tr. 453).

         On May 17, 2016, Plaintiff reported being unable to sleep. (Tr. 455). On mental status examination, Plaintiff was adequately groomed, alert and oriented x 3, had clear speech, relevant associations, adequate recent and remote memory, varied thoughts, fair insight and judgment, fair attention/concentration, no suicidal or homicidal ideation, and no psychotic symptoms. (Tr. 455).

         On June 9, 2016, Plaintiff was a “no show” for group counseling and reported that she is “not going to go to group counseling for 6 months for something I didn't even do. I am just going to do my 30 days in jail.” (Tr. 465). Plaintiff indicated that she was not interested in continuing services as she did not feel she needed treatment. Id.

         On September 6, 2016, Plaintiff was seen by nurse Krieger and stated that she felt stable on her present medications without side effects, which she wanted to continue unchanged. (Tr. 467). Her medications remained unchanged. Id.

         On November 15, 2016, Plaintiff reported racing thoughts, increased anxiety, and a reduction in her ability to concentrate and focus. (Tr. 469). Her prescription for Seroquel was increased for her daytime racing thoughts. Id.

         On December 27, 2016, Plaintiff reported not sleeping at night due to racing thoughts, irritability, and mood instability. (Tr. 471). It was noted that Plaintiff's insurer, Buckeye, may have refused to fill Plaintiff's Seroquel prescription due to the manner in which it was written. Id. On mental status examination, Plaintiff was alert and oriented x 3, had clear speech, relevant associations, adequate recent and remote memory, varied thoughts, fair insight and judgment, fair concentration/attention, and no psychotic symptoms. Id.

         On January 24, 2017, Plaintiff reported doing well on her present medications, including sleeping well. (Tr. 473). Nurse Krieger opined that overall Plaintiff was stable and her medications were continued unchanged. (Tr. 473).

         2. Opinions Concerning Plaintiff's Functional Limitations

         On August 26, 2015 and August 31, 2015, State Agency physician Leanne M. Bertani, M.D., and psychologist Joseph Edwards, Ph.D., respectively noted that Plaintiff alleged depression, anxiety, and COPD, but that her conditions could not be evaluated due ...


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