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Estrada v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 18, 2019

MARY ESTRADA, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Michael H. Watson, Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KIMBERLY A. JOLSON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Mary Estrada, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). For the reasons set forth below, it is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (Doc. 8) be OVERRULED, and that judgment be entered in favor of Defendant.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed her application for SSI on February 11, 2015, alleging that she was disabled beginning September 1, 2006. (Doc. 7, Tr. 193). She later amended her onset date to February 10, 2015. (Tr. 222). After her application was denied initially and on reconsideration, the Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”) held a hearing on October 11, 2017. (Tr. 48-96). On February 9, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's application for benefits. (Tr. 17- 37). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-6).

         Plaintiff filed the instant case seeking a review of the Commissioner's decision on August 27, 2018 (Doc. 1), and the Commissioner filed the administrative record on November 19, 2018 (Doc. 7). Plaintiff filed her Statement of Errors (Doc. 8), and Defendant filed an Opposition (Doc. 9), and no reply was filed. Thus, this matter is now ripe for consideration.

         A. Relevant Hearing Testimony

         1. Plaintiff's Testimony

         Relevant here, Plaintiff testified about her mental health and abilities. She testified that being around new people or in new places makes her anxious, and her anxiety causes her to pick at her skin. (Tr. 66-67). She does not drive to new places, and she leaves the house only for doctors' appointments and grocery shopping. (Tr. 67-68). When Plaintiff goes to the store, her daughter accompanies her, prepares the grocery list, and marks off items on the list as they shop. (Tr. 68). Plaintiff's daughter also assists Plaintiff with scheduling doctors' appointments and other paperwork. (Tr. 69). Plaintiff testified that, at a previous job, she struggled with the required paperwork. (Tr. 68-69).

         Plaintiff additionally testified about her memory. She told the ALJ that, at times, she forgets to eat, bathe, or take her medications. (Tr. 72-73). When doing households chores, she sometimes leaves the oven on, leaves clothes in the washing machine or dryer, or forgets about dishes in the sink. (Tr. 73). Plaintiff testified that she takes Cymbalta and Zyprexa for her depression and anxiety. (Tr. 69).

         2. Dr. Lace's Testimony

         Dr. Michael A. Lace, Psy.D., a non-examining medical expert, also testified at the administrative hearing. He indicated that Plaintiff has a condition described as “borderline intellectual functioning” as well as depressive and anxiety disorders not otherwise specified. (Tr. 76). Dr. Lace further testified that while Plaintiff may have some challenges with reading, she would be capable of reading simple sentences. Dr. Lace also explained his opinion regarding the notations in the record from a state agency examiner and social worker regarding Plaintiff's limitations. Dr. Lace stated that within the confines of simple, routine, repetitive tasks, there would be no need for additional assistance based on his evaluation of the record as a whole. (Tr. 77-78). Dr. Lace concluded that Plaintiff should be limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks where there is only occasional contact with coworkers, the general public, and supervisors and no high production quotas or fast pace. (Tr. 78).

         B. Relevant Medical Background

         As noted, Plaintiff's Statement of Errors concerns her mental health, and it follows that the Court examines only the same. The ALJ usefully summarized the relevant records:

On October 2, 2014, the claimant underwent a psychological consultative examination, alleging depression, anxiety or nerves (Exhibit 2F, page 1). The claimant reported living with her two daughters and grandchild. She reported getting up at 11 am, independently performing personal hygiene activities, picking up around the house, watching television, playing with the baby, and doing dishes (Exhibit 2F, page 4). She also indicated that she plays cards with her father some, visiting him in the evenings, watching television, and having one or two friends (Exhibit 2 F, page 4). Mental status examination noted a minimal range of motion, reports of depression and anxiety, has possible reading and memory problems, less than marginal insight, and at least marginal judgment (Exhibit 2F, page 3). The claimant also underwent a Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, Fourth Edition, in which she achieved a verbal comprehension index score of 70, a perceptual reasoning index score of 73, and a full-scale IQ score of 63 (Exhibit 2F, pages 3- 6). Examiner Floyd Sours, M.A., diagnosed unspecified depressive disorder, unspecified anxiety disorder, and borderline intellectual functioning, based on the claimant's reports of activities of daily living, testing, the claimant's lack of glasses therefore in inability to see to read, and noted possible memory problems (Exhibit 2F, page 4). Mr. Sours indicated that the claimant would have some limitation on her ability to understand, remember, and carry out instructions in a work setting; would have the ability to attend and concentrate as she persists and paces herself in the pursuit of simple, repetitive tasks, as well as multi-step tasks in a work setting; would have the ability to maintain appropriate behavior in a work setting as she relates to supervisors and co- workers; and would have the ability to maintain appropriate behavior under work pressure in a work setting (Exhibit 2F, page 5).
On June 24, 2015, the claimant underwent a second psychological consultative evaluation, alleging depression in additional to physical impairments (Exhibit 1OF, page 1). The claimant reported living with her daughter, and not interacting with neighbors, and stated that she stopped working to care for her children, although she is not unable to work due to physical problems (Exhibit l0F, page 2). She reported no history of outpatient counseling, and using psychotropic medication with “a little” positive response (Exhibit 10F, page 2). She indicated she get out of bed between 7 and 9am, has breakfast, watches television for a couple of hours, plays games on her tablet, and is able to socialize with family members. She indicated that her daughter does the cooking and cleaning, and they both shop. She stated she is able to read her mail but needs help with comprehension, can write a simple list, and took a written driver's license test. Mental status examination was notable for being mildly anxious and jumpy, tense posture, constricted affect and mildly dysphoric, irritable, and anxious mood, evidence of mild psychomotor agitation, with no difficulty understanding simple or moderately complex instructions, limited short-term memory and delayed auditory recall, average long-term memory, fair to variable concentration, adequate persistence and pace, and some insight into her psychological problems and need for treatment (Exhibit 10F, page 3). Examiner Steven Meyer, Ph.D., diagnosed adjustment disorder with depression and anxiety, learning disorder by history, and a GAF of 60 (Exhibit l0F, page 4). Dr. Meyer indicated the claimant's prior diagnosis of borderline intellectual functioning seemed overall consistent with her presentation and self-report (Exhibit l0F, page 4). Dr. Meyer indicated that the claimant would have the cognitive capacity to understand, remember, and carryout simple and moderately complex routine instructions and tasks, with some oral and hands-on assistance and supervision if needed; would be expected to be able to perform adequately in a setting without strict production requirements and with some additional assistance available as needed at times of learning and performing new tasks; is expected to be able to perform best in a nonsocial, solitary setting, with at most intermittent contact with coworkers and supervisors; and is expected to be able to withstand the demands of a low stress work setting, for work within any physical conditions, with ongoing medication compliance, and with some additional assistance available as needed at times of change in routine (Exhibit l0F, pages 4-5).
The claimant establish with mental health services on July 29, 2015, reporting depression, anxiety, and stressors including: her daughter's recent hospitalization due to her mental health and substance abuse; her father's stroke; inability to work due to physical issues; denial of her disability claim; and finances (Exhibit 14F, page 1). She reported living with her father and niece to help provide care after his stroke (Exhibit 14F, page 2). Mental status examination was notable for depression/sadness, impaired recent memory, with reports of anxiety around crowds, when leaving her home, and racing thoughts (Exhibit 14F, pages ...

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