United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
R. Knepp II, United States Magistrate Judge.
Ruthie Faye Seals (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint
against the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) seeking judicial review of the
Commissioner's decision to deny disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”). (Doc. 1). The district court
has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1383(c) and
405(g). The parties consented to the undersigned's
exercise of jurisdiction in accordance with 28 U.S.C. §
636(c) and Civil Rule 73. (Doc. 10). For the reasons stated
below, the undersigned affirms the decision of the
filed for DIB in August 2015, alleging a disability onset
date of February 23, 2015. (Tr. 137-38). She later amended
her alleged onset date to August 8, 2016. (Tr. 153). Her
claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr.
83-94). Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 95-96).
Plaintiff (represented by counsel), and a vocational expert
(“VE”) testified at a hearing before the ALJ on
September 13, 2017. (Tr. 26-54). On September 18, 2017, the
ALJ found Plaintiff disabled in a written decision.
(Tr. 13-24). On November 9, 2017, the Appeals Counsel sent
Plaintiff notice of its review of the ALJ's decision.
(Tr. 130-35). In response, Plaintiff submitted additional
evidence. See Tr. 535-81. On April 19, 2018, the
Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and issued a
new decision, finding Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr.
1-10). The Appeals Council's decision is thus the final
decision of the Commissioner in this case. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.979, 404.981. Plaintiff timely filed the
instant action on June 13, 2018. (Doc. 1).
Background and Testimony
time of the hearing, Plaintiff lived alone. (Tr. 33). She had
a driver's license and drove to the grocery store and
church. (Tr. 34). She had a Master's degree in
psychology, and past work as a therapist. (Tr. 35-36).
testified that because of her depression, she had low energy
and no appetite. (Tr. 40). She testified she stopped taking
medication for her depression “[b]ecause it wasn't
helping”. (Tr. 43). She also noted that it made her
drowsy so she would just take it “once or twice a
week” and “felt if [she] ate proper food and took
over-the-counter medication[, ] [she] would probably do
better.” Id.; see also Tr. 44 (noting
she stopped medication because made her drowsy and
low-energy). She believed her diabetes caused the depression.
December 2015 - prior to her alleged onset date - Plaintiff
underwent a consultative psychiatric examination with Natalie
Whitlow, Ph.D. (Tr. 326-33). Dr. Whitlow concluded that she
could not “gather sufficient information to determine
an accurate and reliable DSM-5 diagnosis for the
constellation of symptoms that the claimant described”
and therefore she was “unable to determine if the
claimant experiences any mental health symptoms that impair
her ability to effectively engage in the work world.”
January and March 2016, State agency physicians Leslie Rudy,
Ph.D., and Todd Finnerty, Psy.D., respectively, reviewed
Plaintiff's records and determined the evidence did not
establish a medically determinable mental impairment. (Tr.
August 2016, Plaintiff saw Brian Nwaozuzu, C.N.P. (Tr.
397-403). Plaintiff reported a history of depression, and
that she felt “severely depressed” and wanted
help. (Tr. 397). Plaintiff reported symptoms of insomnia,
loss of interest in activities, and not wanting to stay in
bed. Id. On examination, Plaintiff had a depressed
mood, lethargic behavior, poor eye contact, and tense
posture. (Tr. 398). She had a labile mood, fluent and
coherent speech, and was cooperative and pleasant.
Id. Mr. Nwaozuzu diagnosed recurrent major
depression, prescribed mirtazapine, encouraged Plaintiff to
see a social worker, and ordered a psychiatry consultation.
(Tr. 399). That same day, Plaintiff completed a psychiatry
intake by phone with Lisa Johnson, L.S.W. (Tr. 531).
October 2016, Plaintiff reported she thought she was able to
sleep better since starting the mirtazapine. (Tr. 388). At
that same visit, Plaintiff scored a zero on the
“PHQ-9”, answering “not at all” to
questions about whether, e.g., she felt depressed, had
trouble sleeping, or had little interest or pleasure in doing
things. (Tr. 395-96).
December 2016 visit for diabetes and hypertension monitoring,
Plaintiff reported a history of depression. (Tr. 380). On
examination, the provider noted she was positive for
depression, and negative for sleep disturbance. (Tr. 382).
The provider continued Plaintiff's major depressive
disorder diagnosis, but noted she “report[ed]
subjective improvement in mood.” Id.
January 2017, Plaintiff reported active involvement with
Bible study at church, and that she “ha[d] a lot more
social stimuli.” (Tr. 372). A review of systems was
negative for sleep disturbance. (Tr. 373). The