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Priestley v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division, Dayton

August 5, 2019


          Walter H. Rice District Judge


          Sharon L. Ovington United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Introduction

         The Social Security Administration provides Supplemental Security Income to individuals with a “disability” (among other eligibility requirements). Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 470 (1986); see 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a). A “disability” in this context means “any medically determinable physical or mental impairment” that precludes an applicant from performing a significant paid job (“substantial gainful activity”). 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); see Bowen, 476 U.S. at 469-70.

         Plaintiff Nina Priestly applied for Supplemental Security Income in early April 2012. Since then, her application and evidence has been reviewed and found wanting by two Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) in three decisions. The most recent decision, by ALJ Gregory G. Kenyon, denied Plaintiff's application based on the conclusion that her medical impairments did not amount to a “disability” as defined in the Social Security Act. (Doc. #6, PageID #s 628-39).

         Plaintiff brings the present case contending that ALJ Kenyon's decision his fraught with six errors:

1. The ALJ failed to reasonably weight the testimony of Plaintiff's case worker.
2. The ALJ did not adequately weigh the opinion of Dr. Kramer.
3. The ALJ failed to reasonably appraise Plaintiff's mental health limitations.
4. The ALJ's credibility findings are not reasonably justified.
5. The ALJ's findings regarding Plaintiff's physical capacity for work[-]relevant postures are unsupported and the product of inadequate opinion weighing.
6. The ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence and the Commissioner's position is not substantially justified.

(Doc. #7, PageID #1273).

         The Commissioner finds no error in the ALJ's decision and contends that substantial evidence supports his evaluation of the medical evidence and Plaintiff's credibility.

         II. Background

         Plaintiff was forty-seven years old when she applied (in April 2012) for Supplemental Security Income. She is therefore considered a “younger person” under social-security regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c). In mid-2015, she turned fifty years old and moved into the category of a “person approaching advanced age. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(d). Plaintiff's earned a high-school education, at a minimum.[2] Her contributions to the workforce involved various jobs that the ALJ described as general office clerk.

         Plaintiff testified during administrative hearings that she experienced bad depressive episodes generally two or three times per week. (Doc. #6, PageID #s 72, 675-76). But, her episodes of depression can last up to a week. She has a bad week once every couple of months. Id. During episodes of serious depression, she sleeps much of the day and is awake much of the night. Id. She isolates herself by not typically leaving her home during a bad episode of depression, and she “can't pull herself together enough to actually do” household activities. Id. at 72-73, 665, 675, 984-85. She will not take a shower or bath during her bad days and weeks. Even during some of her better weeks she is unable to muster the determination to shower or bathe. As a result, she might go months without showering or bathing. Id. at 675-76.

         Plaintiff has difficulty with her energy levels. She explained, “Some days I just don't function. I just can't even handle getting up, sometimes. And other times I can handle getting up. But it's difficult to get out of … clothes you wear at home that you do not wear out in public. Some days I just don't. I don't…, do anything at all.” Id. at 666-67. She spends most of a bad day sleeping. This occurs a couple of times a month. Id. at 667, 984. Activity or stress on one day can also significantly reduce her ability to function on the next day. Id. at 990. Sometimes Plaintiff's depressive episodes interfere with her sleep, resulting in her occasionally missing mental-health-treatment appointments. Id. at 73. Her missed appointments occasionally allow her prescriptions to lapse, briefly forcing her to go without her medications. Id. at 75. Her memory is also poor and she struggles to interact “in a socially acceptable way” for more than a brief period of time (four to six hours). Id. at 669, 674. She explained:

I have way less patience than I used to have, which affects my interacting with other people. But also, more than that, I just - I go for a certain amount of time, and then I just can't seem to make myself keep doing whatever it is that I'm trying to do. Sometimes it's as if I've lost interest. Whether I actually lost interest, or just motivation and concentration, I don't know.

Id. at 674. Plaintiff has also occasionally struggled with suicidal thoughts. Id. at 667. She also picked at the skin on her arms or “other places.” Id. at 667-68. She testified, “I suppose you could say I've been working at not doing that. Primarily, by doing things like knitting. As long as I can keep my hands busy with something else, I cannot rip at myself.” Id. at 668.

         Plaintiff's caseworker at Eastway Behavioral Healthcare, Ms. Donna Yount, testified during Plaintiff's 2013 administrative hearing. Id. at 81-86. She had been a caseworker at Eastway for over thirteen years. She held a state-issued “social worker assistant license.” Id. at 81-82. She helped Plaintiff by coordinating her paperwork and handling administrative matters. In 2013, Ms. Yount had known Plaintiff for close to two years. Ms. Yount explained that Plaintiff saw a doctor at Eastway every two months, and Ms. Yount was scheduled to visit Plaintiff at her home once a month. Id. at 82-83. ...

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