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Stewart v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

November 20, 2019



          Sharon L. Ovington United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Wendy Stewart brings this case challenging the Social Security Administration's denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income. She applied for benefits in June 2015, asserting that she could no longer work a substantial paid job. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Elizabeth A. Motta concluded that she was not eligible for benefits because she is not under a “disability” as defined in the Social Security Act.

         The case is before the Court upon Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (Doc. #8), the Commissioner's Memorandum in Opposition (Doc. #12), Plaintiff's Reply (Doc. #13), and the administrative record (Doc. #6).

         Plaintiff seeks a remand of this case for payment of benefits or, at a minimum, for further proceedings. The Commissioner asks the Court to affirm ALJ Motta's non-disability decision.

         II. Background

         Plaintiff asserts that she has been under a “disability” since May 1, 1998. On the date she applied for Supplemental Security Income, she was thirty-two years old and was therefore considered a “younger person” under Social Security Regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c). She has a high school education. See Id. § 416.964(b)(4).

         A. Plaintiff's Testimony

         At the hearing, when ALJ Motta asked why she was disabled, Plaintiff responded, “I can't - - I don't - - my anxiety, my PTSD, I freeze up. I start shaking really bad. I - - I don't - - I really [don't] know how to explain it.” (Doc. #6, PageID #69). She explained that she has always had an issue with communication but, for the past seven years, it has been the worst. Id.

         Plaintiff struggles with anxiety. She takes medication for anxiety and depression. Id. at 73. Her former primary-care doctor prescribed it. Id. at 73. However, at the time of the hearing, she was trying to find a new doctor because she “got in trouble” for cussing and arguing with a lady at her doctor's office. Id. at 85.

         When Plaintiff is anxious, she gets shaky, her palms sweat, her body shakes, she trembles, she gets confused, and she feels a lot of emotion. Id. at 79. It happens when someone knocks on the door, when she opens the front door, and when she has to leave the house. Id. at 79.

         About once a week, when Plaintiff gets mad, starts yelling and screaming, runs into her room, slams the door, and sits inside the door so she does not go back out. Id. at 85. She does not like to yell in front of her kids. Id.

         Plaintiff went to TCN for suboxone treatment but stopped going when she “completed it.” Id. She also attended group therapy sessions. Id. at 70. She stopped treatment at TCN because her doctor asked her too many personal questions about her “past life” and “sex experiences ….” Id. She instead sees a private counselor, Dr. Rogers, every other week. Id. at 70, 84. Dr. Rogers told her that she has a lot of symptoms of PTSD but Plaintiff cannot pinpoint a specific traumatic experience. Id. at 84. Nonetheless, Plaintiff believes therapy helps her. Id. at 71.

         Plaintiff has not used drugs other than marijuana since March 2009. Id. At the time of the hearing, she had recently quit smoking marijuana. Id. She hopes to move to Colorado so that she could smoke legally. Id. Marijuana helps her anxiety “a ton.” Id. at 81 In addition to her psychological issues, she “just recently started hurting within the last so many years.” Id. at 69. She has back pain caused by facet's disease. Id. at 74. Unfortunately, there is no cure and her doctors told her that it would only get worse. Id. She has trouble lifting more than a gallon of milk. Id. at 82.

         Further, Plaintiff gets nauseated and throws up almost every day. Id. at 74. Her doctors cannot determine what is causing her nausea. Id. She takes Zofran to help.

         Plaintiff has good days and bad days. When she is having a good day, she sits with her younger children, plays, and tries to teach them things. Id. at 76, 83. On a bad day, she yells, screams, and cries. Id. at 80. She used to throw things but does not anymore. Id. Generally, if she spends more time at home, she has more good days. Id. She estimated that she has two to three bad days a week. Id. at 81.

         Plaintiff has six children who are 3, 4, 8, 13, 17, and 19 years old. Id. at 67. The two youngest live with her. Id. However, she cannot be alone with her three-year old and four-year old. Id. at 81. Her boyfriend usually helps her but if he cannot, her nineteen-year-old son helps her. Id. Moreover, Plaintiff cannot take the kids out of the house by herself but is able to go if her boyfriend is with her. Id. at 76.

         She goes to the grocery store once a month. Id. at 77. From time to time, she goes to Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Id. She has one friend who is an older lady. Id. Plaintiff tries to help her boyfriend clean the house but when she does too much, she has severe pain for two days. Id. at 82. She can put laundry into the washer and start it but cannot pull the clothes out and put them in the dryer. Id. at 77. She sometimes gets on the internet on her phone. Id. at 78. If she has to read something, she must read it four or five times before she can comprehend it. Id. She has to be reminded to take a shower and she does not brush her teeth. Id. at 79. Plaintiff has never had a driver's license. Id. at 68. When she tried to drive, she wrecked the vehicle. Id.

         B. Jeff Combs' Testimony

         Mr. Combs, Plaintiff's boyfriend of seven years, testified at the hearing before ALJ Motta. Id. at 86. He worked full time until about five years before the hearing when he had to quit to help take care of their young children. Id. at 87. At the time of the hearing, Mr. Combs could only work part-time-two days a week-outside the home. Id. at 87-88. He explained that it was difficult for him to find work because he does not know when Plaintiff will have an episode and he takes her to a lot of doctor appointments. Id. at 88. He found an employer who will allow him to work two days a week on his own schedule. Id. He cannot find a full-time job with that much flexibility. Id. When he is at work, their eighteen-year-old son comes over to help Plaintiff. Id.

         Nonetheless, he sometimes has to leave work early to go home to intervene or help:

I've had times where I've been at work and she called me just crying. I mean crying, breaking down or raising cane, cussing and when are you coming home? And … if she has too much time to think, she'll start thinking. It's almost … like she … pictures stuff and she believes what she's seeing but it's not real. I don't mean … hallucinations. I mean … she'll think I might be out running around on her ...

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