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Dodson v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

December 16, 2019

MARILYN KAY DODSON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          William H. Baughman, Jr. United States Magistrate Judge.

         Introduction

         Before me[1] is an action by Marilyn Kay Dodson seeking judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security that denied her application for disability insurance benefits.[2] The Commissioner has answered.[3] Under my pretrial orders[4]the parties have briefed their arguments, [5] filed fact sheets[6] and participated in a telephonic oral argument.[7]

         For the reasons that follow the decision of the Commissioner to deny benefits will be affirmed.

         Facts

         The relevant facts are simply stated. Dodson was born in 1954 and so was a person of advanced age at all stages of her application.[8] She has a high school education and her past relevant work was as a dispatcher and in maintenance.[9] She last worked full-time in 2014[10] and she initially filed her claim in 2016.[11]

         Essentially Dodson claimed in her application that she was disabled as a result of gastroparesis and associated acid reflux issues, as well as diabetes, neuropathy and high blood pressure.[12] She stated that she was unable to eat when stressed and that this condition has caused her to lose weight, as well as prevented her from eating “regular size meals.”[13]She further stated that stress induces feelings of heartburn and diarrhea which in turn means that she must stay upright (a standing or seated position) for three hours after eating.[14] She reported that she could perform normal daily activities so long as she remained close to a bathroom.[15]

         The ALJ found that Dodson did not meet any listing, but rather analyzed individual digestive disorder symptoms to determine if, in combination, Dodson's symptoms met or equaled a listing.[16] After giving “great weight” to the opinions of two State agency consultants regarding the meeting of a listing, the ALJ concluded that Dodson did not meet or equal a listing.[17]

         In the RFC, Dodson was determined to have a capacity for performing light work with some additional limitations.[18]

         In support of that RFC, the ALJ set forth a detailed examination of Dodson's complaints as to the purported limitations brought about by her symptoms.[19] In that regard, he first discussed the objective medical evidence, with emphasis on the 2014-2017 treatment notes from Dr. Tischner, her primary care physician, and Dr. Shaeen, her gastroenterologist.[20] He then examined the 2016 functional capacity opinions of the two State agency consultants, giving the opinions “limited partial weight.”[21] The ALJ stated that additional restrictions were required to account for “infrequent, ” “intermittent” and “non-severe” postural and exertional limitations.[22]

         Finally, based on the testimony of a VE, the ALJ found that Dodson would be capable of performing her past relevant work, which in this case was determined to be “Dispatcher, Maintenance Service.”[23]

         Thus, Dodson was found not to be disabled.[24]

         Analysis

         Here, Dodson makes three arguments:

1. The ALJ failed to properly consider SSR 14-2p in analyzing whether a combination of symptoms was equivalent to a listing.
2. The ALJ's determination that Dodson lacked credibility as to the limiting effects of her symptoms was not supported by substantial evidence and was contrary to SSR 16-3p.
3. The ALJ improperly found that Dodson could return to her past relevant work.[25]

         In all instances, the claims will be considered here according to the well-known substantial evidence standard set out in Bruxton v. Halter.[26] The first argument will be addressed initially below. As counsel agreed at the telephonic oral argument, the remaining arguments are related, and so will be considered together.

         Combined impairment analysis

         Dodson's first issue here, as stated, is that the ALJ failed to properly consider SSR 14-2p in addressing the combined symptoms of Dodson's diabetes. She maintains that her diabetic complications consist of gastroparesis, polyneuropathy and edema in her legs.[27]She further contends that it was error by the ALJ not to specifically mention SSR 14-2p in the analysis.[28]

         I note at the outset that SSR 14-2p simply “provides information about the types of impairments and limitations that result from diabetes mellitus” and “provides guidance” as to how to evaluate disability claims arising from diabetes mellitus.[29] Significantly, there is no requirement that this particular Social Security Ruling be specifically cited in conducting an analysis that follows its guidance. Indeed, Magistrate Judge Greenberg recently observed that it was only harmless error when an ALJ incorrectly cited to a wholly different and incorrect Social Security Ruling as part of an analysis of whether a claimant's diabetes symptoms met or equaled a listing. Rather, Magistrate Judge Greenberg concluded that what was actually required was that the ALJ had evaluated the claimant's disorder under the applicable listings for the body systems affected by her disorder.[30]

         That is exactly what occurred here. In line with the general rubric for evaluating whether a claimant meets or equals a listing, [31] and specifically in accord with Magistrate Judge Greenberg's standard in cases like this of analyzing a claimant's symptoms by reference to affected body systems, the ALJ here carefully analyzed symptoms of diabetic gastroparesis, weight loss, and diabetic polyneuropathy and concluded that, individually or taken together, Dodson had not met or equaled any listed impairment.[32]

         Moreover, the ALJ stated that he considered and gave great weight to the opinions of two State agency consultants who concluded that Dodson had not met or equaled any listing related to the digestive system.[33] Such an opinion by a state ...


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