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Corey v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 17, 2019

BREANNA E. COREY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CHELSEY M. VASCURA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Breanna E. Corey (“Plaintiff”), brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for supplemental security income. This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (ECF No. 10), the Commissioner's Memorandum in Opposition (ECF No. 15), Plaintiff's Reply Memorandum (ECF No. 16), and the administrative record (ECF No. 9). For the reasons that follow, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner of Social Security's non-disability finding and REMANDS this case to the Commissioner and the ALJ under Sentence Four of § 405(g) for further consideration consistent with this Opinion and Order.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed her application for Title II Social Security Benefits on October 19, 2015, alleging that she had been disabled since January 1, 2008. (R. 168.) On January 1, 2018, following administrative denials of Plaintiff's application initially and on reconsideration, a video hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Kevin Plunkett (the “ALJ”). (Id. at 33-67.) Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. Vocational expert Dr. Matthew Sprong (the “VE”) also appeared and testified at the hearing. On February 28, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Id. at 15-28.) On August 13, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review and adopted the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision. (R. 1- 3.) Plaintiff then timely commenced the instant action. (ECF No. 1.)

         II. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         On February 28, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (R. 15-28.) At step one of the sequential evaluation process, [1] the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantially gainful activity since September 24, 2015, the date Plaintiff applied for Social Security benefits. (Id. at 17.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of seizure disorder, asthma, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. (Id.) He further found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments described in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id. at 18.) At step four of the sequential process, the ALJ set forth Plaintiff's RFC as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except the claimant can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; never work at unprotected heights, with moving mechanical parts, or operate a motor vehicle for commercial purposes; and can have only occasional exposure to dust, fumes, and pulmonary irritants. In terms of the ability to understand, remember, and carry out instructions, the claimant is limited to performing simple and routine tasks. In terms of using judgment and in terms of dealing with changes in the work setting, the claimant is limited to simple work-related decisions. The claimant has the ability to respond to supervisors on a frequent basis, but respond to coworkers or the public on only an occasional basis, and any contact with coworkers or the public should be only superficial in nature.

(Id. at 20.)

         In assessing Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ considered the opinion evidence in the record, including the opinion of the state-agency reviewer Robelyn Marlow, Ph.D. Dr. Marlow found that Plaintiff was “limited to superficial encounter[s] with general public as well as coworkers and supervisors, ” in “[p]referably an isolated work environment, ” and “limited to low production work in relaxed setting with minimal routine changes.” (R. 95-96.) The ALJ assigned “significant” weight to Dr. Marlow's opinion, explaining as follows:

On May 9, 2016, another State agency non-examining psychological consultant, Robelyn Marlow, Ph.D., opined that the claimant was limited to superficial encounters with the general public, coworkers, and supervisors; as well as low production work in a relaxed setting with minimal routine changes (Ex. 4A). Dr. Marlow's opinions are consistent with the medical evidence of record, particularly Ms. Notestine's notes that the claimant requires some assistance with social norms and is occasionally unclear on social cues (Ex. 3F). It is also consistent with the evidence of improved concentration, memory, and thought content with treatment (Ex. 6F; 17F, p. 1; 20F, p. 14, 20-21). It is also consistent with the claimant's reported activities including performing all personal hygiene activities unassisted, cooking, doing household chores, and caring for her infant daughter (Ex. 6F, Hrg. Testimony). Thus, the undersigned affords Dr. Marlow's opinion significant weight.

(R. 26-27.)

         At step five of the sequential process, the ALJ, relying on the VE's testimony, found that considering Plaintiff's age, education, past work experience, and RFC, she can perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (Id. at 27.) The ALJ therefore concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Id. at 28.)

         In her Statement of Errors (ECF No. 10), Plaintiff raises two contentions of error. First, she contends that the ALJ failed to provide good reasons for discounting the opinion of her treating physician, Dr. Lettvin. Second, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ's mental RFC is not supported by the record.

         III. ...


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