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Kushnerski v. Saul

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

August 29, 2019




         Plaintiff Menachem Kushnerski (“Plaintiff”) requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration (“Defendant”) denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). ECF Dkt. #1. In his brief on the merits, Plaintiff's sole assertion of error is that the ALJ erred by failing to afford great weight to the opinion of his treating psychiatrist, Dr. Goldman. ECF Dkt. #14. For the following reasons, the Court REVERSES the decision of the ALJ and REMANDS Plaintiff's case to the ALJ for reevaluation and analysis of Dr. Goldman's opinion.


         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on March 10, 2015, alleging disability beginning June 14, 2008 due to “depression, neurotic back pain, sharp back pain, paralyze, osteorheumatism, chronic fatigue, memory problem, insomnia, dizziness, weakness, anxiety, discomfort in the head.” ECF Dkt. #11 (“Tr.”) at 155, 214.[2] The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied his application initially and upon reconsideration. Id. at 78, 93-112. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, and the ALJ held a hearing on April 26, 2017, where Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified. Id. at 39-53, 113. A vocational expert (“VE”) also testified. Id. at 53-59.

         On September 13, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB. Tr. at 15-26. Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision and the Appeals Council denied his request for review on April 10, 2018. Id. at 1-9.

         On May 31, 2018, Plaintiff filed the instant suit seeking review of the ALJ's decision. ECF Dkt. #1. He filed a merits brief on October 12, 2018 and Defendant filed a merits brief on December 13, 2018. ECF Dkt. #s 14, 16.


         On September 13, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision first noting that at the ALJ hearing, Plaintiff amended his alleged disability onset date to January 1, 2014. Tr. at 15. He found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2018 and he had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his amended onset date. Id. at 17. The ALJ further found that since that date, Plaintiff had the severe impairments of: degenerative disc disease; myofascial pain dysfunction disorder; chronic pain syndrome; major depressive disorder; schizophrenia; and generalized anxiety disorder (“GAD”). Id. at 18. He found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. at 18-19. After considering the record, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work with the following limitations: he can never climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds; he can frequently climb ramps and stairs, and kneel and crouch; he can occasionally stoop and crawl; no work at unprotected heights; occasional work in extreme and vibration; he can perform simple tasks, but not at a production rate pace; he can frequently interact with supervisors and co-workers, but can only occasionally interact with the public; and he can tolerate routine workplace changes. Id. at 20.

         Based upon Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, the RFC, and the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could not return to his past relevant work as an artist/calligrapher or assistant rabbi, but he could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, such as a warehouse checker, merchandise marker, or an electronics worker. Tr. at 25-26. In conclusion, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 1, 2014, through the date of the decision. Id. at 26.


         An ALJ must proceed through the required sequential steps for evaluating entitlement to social security benefits. These steps are:

1. An individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity will not be found to be “disabled” regardless of medical findings (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b) and 416.920(b) (1992));
2. An individual who does not have a “severe impairment” will not be found to be “disabled” (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c) (1992));
3. If an individual is not working and is suffering from a severe impairment which meets the duration requirement, see 20 C.F.R. ยง 404.1509 and 416.909 (1992), and which meets or is equivalent to a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, a finding of disabled will be made without consideration of ...

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