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Clabaugh v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

August 13, 2019


          Walter H. Rice District Judge


          Sharon L. Ovington United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Introduction

         The Social Security Administration provides Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income to individuals who are under a disability, among other eligibility requirements. A “disability” in this context refers to “any medically determinable physical or mental impairment” that precludes an applicant from engaging in “substantial gainful activity.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A); see Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 469-70 (1986).

         Plaintiff Steven Clabaugh, II applied for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income, asserting that he had been, and continues to be, under a disability, starting on June 1, 2010.[2] Plaintiff's applications and evidence worked their way through preliminary reviews and eventually landed in front of Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Elizabeth A. Motta. After a hearing, during which Plaintiff and a vocational expert testified, ALJ Motta denied Plaintiff's applications on the ground that he was not disabled. (Doc. #6, PageID #s 42-63).

         Plaintiff brings the present case contending (in part) that ALJ Motta erred and unreasonably weighed the opinions of his treating psychologist James Moore, Psy. D. He seeks a remand of this case for payment of benefits or, at a minimum, for further proceedings. The Commissioner finds no error in the ALJ's decision and asks the Court to affirm rather than remand.

         II. Background

         Plaintiff was forty-one years old on his asserted disability onset date. He achieved the equivalence of a high-school education, and he worked in the past as a machine operator and a cabinet assembler. He avows that his “disability centers on a profound decline in his mental health over time.” (Doc. #7, PageID #3322).

         Plaintiff testified during an administrative hearing that he had not been able to work since his back surgery in July 2010. He attempted to return to school, but it didn't work out because he could not sit long enough. This problem, he testified, led to his mental-health decline:

Since my inability to work or to get educated to find a job which I thought would be plausible in the beginning, my mental health has deteriorated to the point where I'm suicidal. My inability to take care of my children, to do right by them, to do right by my ex-wife pretty much haunts me ….

(Doc. #6, PageID #80; see PageID #90). Plaintiff struggles with telling his daughter that he can't do certain things with her. As he vividly describes it: “your soul dies a little bit every time you have to tell a little girl that.” Id. at 90.

         Plaintiff “knew [his] options were gone” after he realized his limitations prevented him from continuing in school. Id. His depression and suicidal ideation have worsened over time. He has weekly suicidal ideations. When this occurs, he lies in bed and cries. He calls the suicide hotline and Dr. Moore, who will see him that day whether or not he has an appointment. Id. at 91. During the two or three years before the ALJ's hearing, Plaintiff called the suicide hotline or Dr. Moore every week. He saw Dr. Moore at least once a week. Id. He characterized Dr. Moore as an “absolutely wonderful person.” Id. at 91. Dr. Moore helped Plaintiff get back on track.

         Plaintiff told ALJ Motta that he called the suicide hotline “probably four or five times a month easy.” Id. at 92. Sometimes by evening, he can pull himself out a little from a bad day. Sometimes a bad day continues into the next day. He testified that a bad day involved “[n]ot a lot of rational thinking. I just-I just don't want to be here no more.” Id. Such bad days occurred twice a week on average.

         Plaintiff reads books and watches TV but does not have any hobbies. Id. at 88-89. He goes to church twice a month if he is “lucky.” Id. at 87. He uses a computer to send emails to family members; he does not play video games on a computer. He does not eat out with friends, family members, or his children. He is divorced and sees his children ever other weekend and every Wednesday.

         Plaintiff's medical records disclose that in September 2011, he was psychiatrically hospitalized due to depression accompanied by suicidal ideation. Id. at 402-03, 578-79. Two months later, he returned to the emergency room due to confusion. He had been waking up disoriented for five days. Id. at 575.

         In May 2012, Plaintiff was psychiatrically hospitalized for three days. Id. at 410-20, 546-50. He had attempted self-harm and suicide by stabbing himself with a butcher knife, causing a “superficial” wound. Id. Hospital notes state, “He was referred for hospitalization because he is depressed, upset, irritable and angry, and he threatened suicide as well as attempted to harm himself.” Id. at 410. He was placed on close observation, provided medications, and scheduled for therapy. Id.

         Plaintiff's third psychiatric hospitalization occurred in May 2014. Id. at 480-86, 1318. He was transported to the hospital by squad because he felt hopeless and suicidal (at home). He remained hospitalized for three days. Shortly after his hospital discharge, he underwent a psychiatric evaluation at Darke County Recovery Services. Id. at 489-506. He reported thoughts of suicide and ongoing depression related primarily to his chronic back pain. Id. at 489, 500-01.

         Plaintiff's next hospitalization began in January 2015 in part because he fractured his wrist. Id. at 713-71. This occurred after he called the police and threatened to jump off a thirty-foot bridge. Id. at 725. At some point, he fell (“jumped or slipped, ” id. at 756) from the bridge. Emergency personnel took him to the hospital. Id. His injured left wrist required surgery with fixation. Id. at 756, 770-71.

         In July 2015, Plaintiff went to Wayne Healthcare again reporting severe depression with suicidal thoughts. Id. at 1139-42, 1734-35. He was transferred to Kettering Behavioral Health for ...

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