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Wood v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 5, 2019

MEAGHAN WOOD, Plaintiff,




         Plaintiff, Meaghan Wood, 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 disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. This matter is before the United States Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation on Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (ECF No. 9), the Commissioner's Memorandum in Opposition (ECF No. 12), and the administrative record (ECF No. 7). Plaintiff did not file a Reply. For the reasons that follow, it is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's Statement of Errors be OVERRULED and that the Commissioner's decision be AFFIRMED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 29, 2015, Plaintiff filed applications for both supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits, alleging that she had been disabled since July 5, 2015. (R. at 221-26.) Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. at 133-38, 144-48.) Plaintiff sought a de novo hearing before an administrative law judge. (R. at 156-57.)

         Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) William Stanley held a hearing on January 25, 2018, at which Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified. (R. at 38-58.) On March 5, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (R. at 11-24.) On July 20, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review and adopted the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision. (R. at 1-5.) Plaintiff then timely commenced the instant action.


         A. David R. Bousquet, M.Ed.

         On January 13, 2016, Plaintiff presented to David R. Bousquet, M.Ed., upon referral by the Ohio Division of Disability Determination for psychological evaluation relating to her claim for mental disability benefits. (R. at 338-45.) Plaintiff reported that her biological parents divorced when she was around age one and that she was raised by her mother. (R. at 339.) Plaintiff reported that she had two step-fathers, the first of whom was an alcoholic and with whom she did not get along. (Id.) Plaintiff has never been married but has four daughters aging in range from nineteen to six years old. (Id.) Plaintiff reported raising her daughters until 2012, at which time she was abusing drugs and her children went into foster care. (Id.) Plaintiff ultimately lost custody of her daughters whom she stated did not want to come back home and with whom she has no contact. (Id.)

         Plaintiff reported graduating from high school after attending regular classes and denied any difficulties in learning or with relating to classmates or teachers while in school. (Id.) Plaintiff also reported attending a community college and received a one-year certificate in medical assisting. (Id.)

         Plaintiff admitted to a history of abusing cocaine, methamphetamines, and IV heroin, but has not used any drugs since 2012. (R. at 340.)

         Upon examination, Mr. Bousquet observed that Plaintiff presented with a neat and clean appearance, exhibited no body odors, and was cooperative during the evaluation. (R. at 342.) Her speech was 100% understandable, sustainable, and goal oriented. (Id.) At times her speech was pressured, but she did not have any difficulties with receptive or expressive language and her associations were organized. (Id.) Mr. Bousquet also observed that Plaintiff struggled with maintaining attention and concentration during the evaluation but was easily refocused. (Id.) At times she was restless and fidgety. (Id.)

         As to her sensorium and cognitive functioning, Mr. Bousquet determined that Plaintiff's cognitive abilities fall in the normal range. (R. at 344.) With regard to her insight and judgment, Mr. Bousquet noted that Plaintiff was able to discuss and describe emotional and psychological difficulties. (Id.) While Plaintiff's reasoning and judgment capacities appeared to fall at age appropriate levels, Mr. Bousquet opined that these capacities “can be easily influenced by her psychological difficulties.” (Id.) According to Mr. Bousquet, Plaintiff would be able to participate in decisions affecting the future and to conduct her own living arrangements. (Id.)

         Mr. Bousquet noted that Plaintiff had experienced emotional and psychological difficulties for a number of years and had been involved with outpatient counseling and hospitalized three times for psychiatric reasons and for substance abuse. (Id.) Mr. Bousquet opined that Plaintiff “would experience neither significant resolution of the symptoms nor significant deterioration in the mental functioning.” (Id.)

         Mr. Bousquet found that Plaintiff's self-report of her emotional and psychological difficulties did not exceed what was observed in the interview process, that she did not exhibit significant inconsistencies in her self-report, and that her self-reported data appeared to be reliable. (R. at 343-44.)

         Mr. Bousquet offered the following functional assessment of Plaintiff: her presentation during the evaluation supported intellectual functioning in the average range; she would be able to understand, remember, and carry out instructions in a work setting consistent with individuals who possess average intellectual capabilities; she had problems attending and concentrating but could be refocused; she would be expected to have difficulties with abilities to maintain attention and concentration and with abilities to maintain appropriate persistence and pace in a work setting; she has the capabilities of engaging in simple as well as multi-step tasks. (R. at 343.) Mr. Bousquet noted that while Plaintiff did not have any difficulties relating to him during the evaluation, she did state that when working “she did experience difficulties relating with coworkers and with supervisors because of fluctuations in her moods”; that she stated that “she prefers to withdraw and isolate herself from others and typically only has contact with her mother and stepfather”; she reported “ongoing issues relating with her mother.” (Id.) Mr. Bousquet opined that “from an emotional and psychological perspective she would be expected to have difficulties with abilities to conform to social expectations in a work setting.” (Id.)

         As to her ability to respond to workplace pressure, Mr. Bousquet stated as follows:

During the interview she did describe having problems with managing work related stresses and/or pressures adaptively and effectively. She reports that currently under the conditions of stress and pressure she finds herself tearful on a daily basis. She continues to experience noticeable fluctuations in her moods. She does acknowledge that she does not allow herself to express any type of anger or frustration. Also under the conditions of stress and pressure she experiences anxiety, she worries and is fearful. She also describes having anxiety/panic attacks that occur on a regular basis. Available information indicates that from an emotional and psychological perspective she does have the abilities to respond appropriately to work place stresses and pressures.

(R. at 345.)

         B. State agency review - Mental assessments

          On January 28, 2016, Kristen Haskins, Psy.D., a state-agency psychologist, reviewed Plaintiff's medical record upon initial consideration. (R. at 71-73, 77-79, 86-88.) Dr. Haskins opined that Plaintiff had mild restrictions in activities of daily living; moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning, concentration, persistence or pace, and no repeated episodes of decompensation. (R. at 73, 88.) As to Plaintiff's mental residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and her capacity to maintain sustained concentration and persistence, Dr. Haskins opined that Plaintiff would need a “work area separate from others to enhance focus where claimant would receive intermittent supervision to ensure claimant is working towards desired production and quality goals.” (R. at 78, 93.) Plaintiff would also need “occasional flexibility” with changing scheduled shifts and breaks. (Id.)

         As to Plaintiff's capacity and limitations with social interaction, Dr. Haskins opined that Plaintiff “would need nonpublic setting job where there is a small group of coworkers with whom claimant has only brief, conventional interactions. Would need occasional constructive feedback from a supervisor to ensure claimant is on task for work goals and to address any concerns claimant has about the work.” (Id.)

         As to Plaintiff's adaptation capacity and limitations, Dr. Haskins opined that Plaintiff “can work in a setting in which duties are routine and predictable and without demands for fast pace or high productions. Changes would need to be explained.” (R. at 79, 94.)

         On May 4, 2016, Audrey Todd, Ph.D., reviewed the medical record upon reconsideration. (R. at 105, 109-11, 125-27.) Dr. Todd agreed with the limitations found by Dr. Haskins. (Id.)


         On March 5, 2018, the ALJ issued his decision. (R. at 11-24.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2016. (R. at 13.) At step one of the sequential evaluation process, [2] the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in ...

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