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Jarrett v. Saul

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

August 12, 2019

KADJA JARRETT, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER

          JONATHAN D. GREENBERG MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Kadja Jarrett (“Plaintiff” or “Jarrett”), challenges the final decision of Defendant, Andrew Saul, [1] Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying her applications for a Period of Disability (“POD”), Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423, and 1381 et seq. (“Act”). This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and the consent of the parties, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(2). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's final decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In January 2014, Jarrett filed applications for POD, DIB, and SSI, alleging a disability onset date of September 30, 2011[2] and claiming she was disabled due to lupus, fibromyalgia, depression, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and hypothyroidism. (Transcript (“Tr.”) at 369-371, 395.) The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Jarrett requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 260, 263, 270, 277, 282.)

         On December 9, 2015, an ALJ held a hearing, during which Jarrett, represented by counsel, and an impartial vocational expert (“VE”) testified. (Tr. 111.) On March 24, 2016, the ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 223.) Jarrett sought review of this decision by the Appeal Council, which remanded the case to an ALJ for further proceedings. (Tr. 253.)

         On November 1, 2017, an ALJ held a hearing, during which Jarrett, represented by counsel, and an impartial VE testified. (Tr. 54.) On December 5, 2017, the ALJ issued a written decision, again finding Jarrett was not disabled. (Tr. 12.) The ALJ's decision became final on July 30, 2018, when the Appeals Council declined further review. (Tr. 1.)

         On September 27, 2018, Jarrett filed her Complaint to challenge the Commissioner's final decision. (Doc. No. 1.) The parties have completed briefing in this case. (Doc. Nos. 14, 16.) Jarrett asserts the following assignments of error:

(1) Whether the ALJ erred in giving limited weight to the opinions of Ms. Jarrett's treating physician and psychiatrist.
(2) Whether the ALJ properly evaluated Ms. Jarrett's pain. (Doc. No. 14.)

         II. EVIDENCE

         A. Personal and Vocational Evidence

         Jarrett was born in January 1972 and was forty five years-old at the time of her administrative hearing, making her a “younger” person under social security regulations. (Tr. 44.) See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563 & 416.963. She has a high school education and is able to communicate in English. (Id.) She has past relevant work as a medical assistant. (Id.)

         B. Relevant Medical Evidence[3]

         1. Mental Impairments

         On October 6, 2014, Jarrett presented to the emergency room after expressing suicidal thoughts to her rheumatologist. (Tr. 1073.) She reported hearing voices and a desire to harm several people in her life. (Id.) Jarrett's urine screen was positive for marijuana. (Tr. 1076.) Jarrett's mood eventually improved during her emergency room visit and she was told to obtain outpatient treatment. (Tr. 1078.)

         On February 17, 2015, primary care physician Anil R. Pai, M.D., completed a form captioned “Medical Source Statement: Patient's Mental Capacity” on behalf of Jarrett. (Tr. 1081-1082.) Dr. Pai opined Jarrett could frequently:

• follow work rules;
• deal with the public;
• understand, remember, and carry out simple job instructions;
• maintain appearance; and
• leave her home independently.

(Id.) Dr. Pai found Jarrett could occasionally:

• use judgment;
• maintain attention and concentration for extended periods;
• respond appropriately to changes in routine settings;
• maintain regular attendance and be punctual within customary tolerance;
• relate to co-workers;
• interact with supervisors;
• function independently with redirection;
• work in coordination with or proximity to others without being distracted or being distracting;
• complete a normal workday and workweek without interruption from psychologically based symptoms and perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods;
• understand, remember, and carry out detailed and complex job instructions;
• socialize and behave in an emotionally stable manner;
• relate predictably in social situations; and
• manage funds/schedules.

(Id.) Dr. Pai concluded Jarrett could rarely deal with work stress. (Tr. 1081.)

         On October 13, 2015, Dr. Pai completed another “Medical Source Statement: Patient's Mental Capacity” form on behalf of Jarrett. (Tr. 1400-1401.) Dr. Pai opined Jarrett could frequently perform the following:

• follow work rules;
• use judgment;
• understand, remember, and carry out simple job instructions; and
• leave home independently.

(Id.) Dr. Pai found Jarrett could occasionally:

• maintain attention and concentration for extended periods;
• respond appropriately to changes in routine settings;
• deal with the public;
• relate to co-workers;
• interact with supervisors;
• function independently without redirection;
• understand, remember, and carry out detailed and complex job instructions;
• maintain appearance;
• socialize and relate predictably in social situations; and
• manage funds and schedules.

(Id.) Dr. Pai concluded Jarrett could rarely:

• maintain regular attendance and be punctual within customary tolerances;
• work in coordination with or proximity to others without being distracted or distracting;
• deal with work stress;
• complete a normal workday and workweek without interruption from psychologically based symptoms and perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods; and
• behave in an emotionally stable manner. (Id.)

         On December 15, 2015, Jarrett visited psychiatrist Jennifer Brandstetter, M.D., for depression. (Tr. 1620.) She reported things were “not going well” and described helplessness and poor sleep. (Id.) She indicated she would spend entire days in bed and expressed high levels of anger. (Id.) Upon examination, Jarrett had a distressed affect and depressed mood. (Tr. 1623.) She denied any auditory or visual hallucinations and her memory and attention were intact. (Tr. 1623.) Her insight and judgment were fair. (Id.) She had passive, but not active, suicidal ideation. (Tr. 1624.) Dr. Brandstetter increased Jarrett's medication dosages and referred her to therapy. (Id.)

         Jarrett returned to Dr. Brandstetter on February 2, 2016. (Tr. 1796.) She indicated she was sleeping better and no longer had suicidal ideation. (Id.) She continued to have anger and low motivation. (Id.) Dr. Brandstetter observed Jarrett appeared calmer, despite being under stress. (Id.) On examination, Jarrett made fair eye contact, had a linear thought process, and intact attention and memory. (Tr. 1800.) She denied any suicidal ideation or hallucinations, but her mood was depressed. (Id.) Dr. Brandstetter concluded Jarrett had made some improvement because she no longer endorsed passive suicidal ideation. (Tr. 1801.)

         Jarrett saw Dr. Brandstetter again on April 12, 2016, reporting worsening anxiety and mood. (Tr. 1602.) On examination, Jarrett was tearful, with a depressed mood. (Tr. 1606.) She denied any hallucinations or suicidal ideation and her memory and attention were intact. (Id.) Dr. Brandstetter adjusted Jarrett's medications and referred her to therapy. (Id.)

         On May 27, 2016, Jarrett visited Dr. Brandstetter, reporting she had stopped taking one of her medications, and since restarting this medication, she felt better. (Tr. 1594.) She described frustration with her husband and “dark thoughts” when angered. (Id.) On examination, Jarrett displayed improved eye contact, but a depressed mood. (Tr. 1597.) She had no suicidal ideation or hallucinations, and her attention and memory were intact. (Id.) Her insight and judgment were fair. (Id.) Dr. Brandstetter adjusted Jarrett's medications. (Tr. 1600.)

         On June 21, 2016, Jarrett indicated she “didn't notice much change” from her medication adjustment. (Tr. 1777.) She reported increased pain because she was doing more around the house. (Id.) On examination, Jarrett's eye contact was improved and her attention and memory were intact. (Tr. 1780.) She denied suicidal ideation and hallucinations, but she reported she was “just existing.” (Id.)

         Jarrett reported increased panic attacks on July 19, 2016. (Tr. 1770.) She described poor sleep and irritability. (Id.) She admitted she had not followed up with a therapist, but expressed interest in a chronic pain rehabilitation program. (Id.) On examination, Jarrett had “decent” eye contact, no suicidal ideation, and a linear thought process. (Tr. 1773.) Her memory and attention were intact and her insight and judgment were fair. (Id.) Jarrett denied any improvement in symptoms so Dr. Brandstetter adjusted her medications again. (Tr. 1775-1776.)

         On August 16, 2016, Jarrett remained overwhelmed, emotional, and easily upset. (Tr. 1575.) She reported continued anxiety and panic attacks, but denied suicidal ideation. (Id.) On examination, Jarrett displayed a “dramatic tone” in her voice, with an angry, but controlled, affect. (Tr. 1578.) Her attention and memory were intact and her judgment and insight were fair. (Id.) Dr. Brandstetter renewed Jarrett's medications and referred her to urgent care due to elevated blood pressure. (Tr. 1581.)

         Jarrett told Dr. Brandstetter on September 6, 2016 that “things are ok[ay.]” (Tr. 1568.) She reported she was limiting her social interactions and Dr. Brandstetter suggested she attend therapy. (Id.) On examination, her speech was normal, she had no suicidal ideation, no hallucinations, and intact memory and attention. (Tr. 1571.) Dr. Brandstetter observed Jarrett had made some “limited improvement” in her mood and sleep. (Tr. 1573.) She again referred Jarrett to therapy. (Tr. 1574.)

         Jarrett returned to Dr. Brandstetter on May 9, 2017. (Tr. 1561.) She admitted discontinuing one of her medications in February. (Id.) She described feeling overwhelmed and socially isolated, with shifting moods. (Id.) Jarrett rated her symptoms as “moderate” at that time. (Id.) On examination, she displayed no suicidal ideation, no hallucinations, with intact attention and memory. (Tr. 1564.) Her insight and judgment were fair. (Id.) Dr. Brandstetter observed “limited improvement in mood/sleep” and referred Jarrett to therapy. (Tr. 1566, 1567.)

         On September 5, 2017, Jarrett returned to Dr. Brandstetter, reporting she had ran out of one of her medications a few days ago and was experiencing increased symptoms. (Tr. 1742.)

         She indicated she continued to socially isolate herself and had not sought out therapy. (Id.) Jarrett rated her symptoms as “moderate-severe.” (Id.) On examination, Jarrett had no suicidal ideation, no hallucinations, intact attention and memory, and fair judgment and insight. (Tr. 1746.)

         That same date, Dr. Brandstetter completed a form captioned “Medical Source Statement - Mental Capacity” on behalf of Jarrett. (Tr. 1738.) Dr. Brandstetter found Jarrett had no limitations in the following areas:

• understanding and learning terms, instructions, or procedures;
• following 1 or 2-step oral instructions;
• describing work activity to someone else;
• asking and answering questions and providing explanations;
• recognizing a mistake and correcting it;
• identifying and solving problems;
• sequencing multi-step activities;
• using reason and judgment to make work-related decisions;
• maintaining personal hygiene and attire appropriate to a work setting; and
• being aware of normal hazards and taking appropriate precautions.

(Tr. 1738-1739.) Dr. Brandstetter opined Jarrett was mildly limited in the following areas:

• initiating and performing a task she understands and knows how to do;
• distinguishing between acceptable and unacceptable work performance; and
• making plans for oneself independent of others.

(Id.) Dr. Brandstetter found Jarrett was moderately impaired in the following areas:

• asking for help when needed;
• stating her own point of view;
• initiating or sustaining conversation;
• understanding and responding to social cutes;
• responding to requests, suggestions, criticism, correction, and challenges;
• changing activities or work settings without being disruptive;
• working closely to or with others without interrupting or distracting them;
• responding to demands;
• adapting to changes; and
• setting realistic goals.

(Id.) Dr. Brandstetter found Jarrett had marked limitations in the following areas:

• cooperating with others;
• handling conflicts with others;
• keeping social interactions free of excessive irritability, sensitivity, argumentativeness ...

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