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Fuentes v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

August 27, 2019


          Walter H. Rice District 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 Alfredo Fuentes has health problems that, at a minimum, interfere with his ability to perform full-time work. He protectively filed[2] an application for Supplemental Security Income in August 2015 asserting that his health problems constitute a disability and qualified him to receive Supplemental Security Income. Administrative Law Judge Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Elizabeth A. Motta found that Plaintiff did not have a disability and denied his application for benefits.

         Plaintiff now challenges ALJ Motta's decision. He argues that the ALJ unreasonably weighed the opinions of his treating psychologist Erendira Lopez-Garcia, Psy.D., and another medical source, Darnel Ladson, D.O.

         The Commissioner argues that the ALJ reasonably weighed the opinions of Dr. Lopez-Garcia and Dr. Ladson, and that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.

         II. Background

         A. Plaintiff and His Testimony

          Plaintiff was forty years old on the date he filed his application for benefits. He was therefore considered a “younger person” under Social Security Regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c). ALJ Motta determined that he was unable to communicate in English and thus fell under the illiteracy Regulation. (Doc. #6, PageID #77 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.964)). His jobs in the past have included forklift operator and material handler.

         ALJ Motta held an administrative hearing during which Plaintiff testified through an interpreter. Plaintiff explained that he is married and has one child (then age twenty-one) and four younger children.

         Plaintiff testified that he began having memory problems in 2016 when he got cancer. He underwent kidney surgery, involving the removal of a majority of one kidney. His cancer was in remission at the time of the ALJ's hearing in 2017.

         A psychiatrist prescribes medication that Plaintiff takes for depression. Plaintiff also takes medication for high blood pressure, cholesterol, sleeping, asthma, and migraine headaches. He testified that the depression medication helped keep him stable. He has a migraine usually once a week “but they last two or three days.” (Doc. #6, PageID #101). When he has a migraine, light bothers him and he has to be in the dark. He lies down when this happens. His depression sometimes makes him feel like crying despite medication. He gets easily frustrated. Id. at 110.

         Plaintiff's daily activities include going outside and walking “a little bit.” Id. at 102. He does not feel safe making simple meals. He does not do any chores, grow vegetables, mow, or rake. He does not use a computer, a tablet, or the internet. He sometimes looks things up on his phone but mostly asks his children to help him look things up. He watches very little TV because he has difficulty focusing and does not get anything out of it. Id. at 110. Perhaps his sole regular activity is attending church on Saturdays.

         Although he can sometimes go alone to the grocery store, he cannot go at night because he gets confused at night. He has trouble sleeping during the night. He wakes up every two hours, and he sometimes has trouble falling to sleep. He explained, “With the nerves I stay up a lot during the night ….” Id. at 107. He also has problems thinking “bad things” at night. Id. at 106. He worries about income and his family. The depression medication helps him stop thinking at night. He feels uncomfortable around people-“I'm not safe, ” he thinks. Id. This causes him to isolate himself. He will get together with others about once a week.

         Plaintiff told the ALJ that he has difficulty completing things he starts. He testified, “When I start to do something, I get desperate and then I get anxious or desperate and I don't finish it.” Id. at 108. He also has fatigue and low energy. He takes a nap about once a day.

         B. Med ...

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