United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
Nicholas S. Messer, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
L. Graham United States District Judge
Nicholas S. Messer brings this action under 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) for review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”)
denying his application for supplemental security income. In
a decision rendered on March 16, 2018, the ALJ found that
plaintiff has severe impairments consisting of major
depressive disorder, schizoid personality disorder, autism
spectrum disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, asthma,
and obesity. PAGEID 60. The ALJ concluded that plaintiff has
the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform light work. The ALJ specified the additional
restrictions that plaintiff must avoid hazards; that he was
limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks in a static work
environment, with no production-paced or quota-driven work,
but could perform goal-oriented jobs such as an office
cleaner and could make simple workplace decisions; and that
he must avoid interacting with the general public and
coworkers, but could have occasional, superficial interaction
with supervisors. PAGEID 61-62. Relying on the testimony of a
vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that there are jobs
which plaintiff can perform and that plaintiff is not
disabled. PAGEID 66-67.
matter is before the court for consideration of
plaintiff's June 6, 2019, objections to the May 30, 2019,
report and recommendation of the magistrate judge,
recommending that the decision of the Commissioner be
Standard of Review
party objects within the allotted time to a report and
recommendation, the court “shall 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). Upon review, the court
“may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part,
the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate
judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
court's review “is limited to determining whether
the Commissioner's decision ‘is supported by
substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal
standards.'” Ealy v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 594 F.3d 504, 512 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting
Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241
(6th Cir. 2007)); see also, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
(“The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security
as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall
be conclusive.”). “Substantial evidence exists
when ‘a reasonable mind could accept the evidence as
adequate to support a conclusion [and] ... presupposes that
there is a zone of choice within which the decision-makers
can go either way, without interference by the
courts.'” Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir. 2009)(internal
citation omitted). A reviewing court will affirm the
Commissioner's decision if it is based on substantial
evidence, even if substantial evidence would also have
supported the opposite conclusion. Gayheart v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec., 710 F.3d 365, 376 (6th Cir. 2013).
However, “‘a decision of the Commissioner will
not be upheld where the [Commissioner] fails to follow its
own regulations and where that error prejudices a claimant on
the merits or deprives the claimant of a substantial
right.'” Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 746
(6th Cir. 2007)).
objects to the conclusion of the magistrate judge that the
ALJ provided good reasons for assigning less than controlling
weight to the opinions of Andrew J. Boyd, M.D.,
plaintiff's primary care physician, concerning his mental
opinions must be given “controlling weight” if:
(1) the opinion “is well-supported by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques”; and (2) the opinion “is not
inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the]
case record.” See 20 C.F.R.
§404.1527(c)(2); Soc. Sec. Rul. No. 96-2p, 1996 WL
374188 at *2-3 (Soc. Sec. Admin. July 2, 1996). If the
opinion of the treating doctor does not meet these
“controlling weight” criteria, this does not mean
that the opinion must be rejected; rather, it “may
still be entitled to deference and be adopted by the
adjudicator.” Soc. Sec. Rul. No. 96-2p, 1996 WL 374188
at *1. If the Commissioner does not give a treating-source
opinion controlling weight, then the opinion is weighed based
on factors such as the length, frequency, nature, and extent
of the treatment relationship, the treating source's area
of specialty, and the degree to which the opinion is
consistent with the record as a whole and is supported by
relevant evidence. 20 C.F.R. §404.1527(c)(2)-(6);
Gayheart, 710 F.3d at 376. However, the ALJ is not
required to address each of these factors in the written
decision. Tilley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 394
Fed.Appx. 216, 222 (6th Cir. 2010); see also Friend v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 Fed.Appx. 543, 551 (6th
Cir. 2010)(a formulaic recitation of factors is not
Commissioner is required to provide “good
reasons” for discounting the weight given to a
treating-source opinion. §404.1527(c)(2). These reasons
must be “supported by the evidence in the case record,
and must be sufficiently specific to make clear to any
subsequent reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave to the
treating source's medical opinion and the reasons for
that weight.” Soc. Sec. Rul. No. 96-2p, 1996 WL 374188
at *5; Rogers, 486 F.3d at 242. An ALJ need not
discuss every piece of evidence in the record for his
decision to stand, see Thacker v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 99 Fed.Appx. 661, 665 (6th Cir. 2004), and the
failure to cite specific evidence does not indicate that it
was not considered, see Simons v. Barnhart, 114
Fed.Appx. 727, 733 (6th Cir. 2004). An ALJ may also
accomplish the goals of the “good reasons”
requirement by indirectly attacking the supportability of the
treating physician's opinion or its consistency with
other evidence in the record. Coldiron v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 391 Fed.Appx. 435, 439-41 (6th Cir. 2010);
Nelson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 195 Fed.Appx.
462, 470-72 (6th Cir. 2006).
who is now twenty-five years old, began treating with Dr.
Boyd on July 29, 2014. The treatment note states that
plaintiff wanted a “paper stating there is something
wrong with him so they can get food stamps.” PAGEID
318. On September 9, 2016, Dr. Boyd completed a mental
impairment questionnaire. PAGEID 385. The indicated diagnoses
were schizoid personality disorder, narcissistic personality
disorder, and depression. Dr. Boyd's clinical findings
included odd affect, poor personal grooming, symptoms of
depression and mild paranoia; he noted that plaintiff sees
himself as “nothing” and sees others as
“less than nothing.” PAGEID 385. Dr. Boyd
completed a checkbox form, indicating marked and extreme
limitations in completing a workday, maintaining regular
attendance, working with others, interacting with the public,
getting along with co-workers, accepting instructions from
supervisors, maintaining socially appropriate behavior,
responding to changes in routine and dealing with work
stress. PAGEID 386-87. This checkbox form contained no
explanation of how Dr. Boyd concluded that plaintiff's
mental impairments would result in the noted functional
limitations. See Price v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 342 Fed.Appx. 172, 176 (6th Cir. 2009)(ALJ
properly discounted treating physician's opinion where
physician failed to provide any explanation for his responses
to interrogatories regarding plaintiff's impairments);
Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525,
530 (6th Cir. 1997)(treating physician's mere
documentation of impairments was not sufficient to support
his opinion that claimant could not perform past job).
May 11, 2016, letter to plaintiff's counsel, Dr. Boyd
stated that plaintiff had a personality disorder with traits
from both narcissistic and schizoid types and a depressive
disorder, that his personality disorder makes personal
interactions extremely difficult, that plaintiff has never
been employed or experienced close personal relationships,
and that his ability to interact in a normal workplace or
tolerate normal workplace stressors is extremely impaired.
PAGEID 382. Dr. Boyd also expressed the opinion that
plaintiff was unemployable and totally and permanently
disabled. PAGEID 379.
summarizing those documents, the ALJ accorded little weight
to Dr. Boyd's opinion because: 1) the limitations posed
by Dr. Boyd were not consistent with and unsupported by the
medical evidence of record as a whole, including
plaintiff's conservative and routine treatment and the
benign findings in Dr. Boyd's own treatment notes; 2) Dr.
Boyd is a primary care physician, not a mental health
specialist; and 3) Dr. Boyd's assertions that plaintiff
is disabled and unemployable are findings reserved for the
Commissioner. PAGEID 64-65.
argues that the ALJ failed to adequately explain how Dr.
Boyd's opinion was inconsistent with the evidence in the
record. The ALJ is not required to explain every piece of
evidence in the record or to address each check mark from the
doctor's opinion. Bayes v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 757 Fed.Appx. 436, 445 (6th Cir. 2018). The
ALJ's decision includes a discussion of the records
bearing on the treatment of plaintiff's mental disorders,
with citations to specific exhibits. The ALJ noted that: 1)
plaintiff's symptoms improved with medications and
conservative, routine treatment (plaintiff reported on
October 2, 2017, that Zoloft was helping) and his symptoms
were well managed by his primary care physician; 2) although
the mental status evaluations showed some depression,
anxiety, and transient findings of grandiosity, his mental
evaluation findings were generally within normal limits,
including no auditory or visual hallucinations, no suicidal
or homicidal ideations, adequate judgment, and the ability to
appropriately answer questions; 3) records from August 5,
2014, through September 25, 2015, showed routine appointments
with no significant findings; 4) plaintiff was referred for a
psychiatric evaluation on February 9, 2015, but did not
engage in psychiatric treatment because he did not want to
take medications; and 5) ...