United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
TIMOTHY D. COATNEY, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
A. Sargus, Jr. Judge
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
CHELSEY M. VASCURA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Timothy D. Coatney (“Plaintiff”), brings this
action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of a final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for a
period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and
supplemental security income. This matter is before the
undersigned for a Report and Recommendation on
Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (ECF No. 10), the
Commissioner's Response in Opposition (ECF No. 13), and
the administrative record (ECF No. 9). For the reasons that
follow, it is RECOMMENDED that
Plaintiff's Statement of Errors be
OVERRULED and that the Commissioner's
decision be AFFIRMED.
protectively filed his applications for a period of
disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental
security income on August 7, 2015. In his applications,
Plaintiff alleged a disability onset of December 15, 2014.
Plaintiff's applications were denied initially on
November 9, 2015, and upon reconsideration on March 14, 2016.
Plaintiff sought a hearing before an administrative law
judge. Administrative Law Judge Jeannine Lesperance (the
“ALJ”) held a hearing on December 5, 2017, at
which Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and
testified. Vocational Expert Carl W. Hartung (the
“VE”), also appeared and testified at the
hearing. On July 30, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding
that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the
Social Security Act. On March 13, 2019, the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review and adopted the
ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision.
On May 15, 2019, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request to reopen the prior denial of his request for review.
Plaintiff timely filed this action.
Statement of Errors, Plaintiff advances two contentions of
error. First, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to
provide “good reasons” supported by substantial
evidence for discounting the opinions of his treating
physician, Sunil V. Bhat, M.D. (“Dr. Bhat”).
(Plaintiff's Statement of Errors at 5-10, ECF No. 10.)
Plaintiff next asserts that the ALJ improperly discounted the
opinion of the consultative examiner, Robert D. Whitehead,
M.D. (“Dr. Whitehead”). (Id. at 11-13.)
RELEVANT MEDICAL RECORDS
Treating Physician, Sunil V. Bhat, M.D.
Bhat is Plaintiff's primary care provider who treated
Plaintiff for, among other things, HIV, peripheral
neuropathy, COPD, and asthma. (See, e.g., R. at
18, 2015, Dr. Bhat submitted a letter stating that Plaintiff
is a patient under his care suffering from “multiple
chronic conditions which include disease of the Central
Nervous System and immunocompromised disorder.” (R. at
1100.) He concluded that Plaintiff “is unable to
participate in meaningful work at this time.”
March 21, 2016, Dr. Bhat provided a medical opinion in
connection with Plaintiff's Paratransit Eligibility
Application for the Central Ohio Transit Authority
(“COTA”). (R. at 957-62.) Dr. Bhat stated that
Plaintiff has an anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress
disorder, peripheral neuropathy, and asthma. (R. at 961.) He
stated that Plaintiff suffers from intermittent anxiety
attacks when in crowded public conditions, that weather
changes exacerbate Plaintiff's asthma, and that
Plaintiff's neuropathy “makes it difficult to wait
for and be comfortable on [a] public bus.”
(Id.) Dr. Bhat opined that Plaintiff would need
assistance with getting to or from the bus stop, getting on
or off the bus, getting to where he is going from the bus
stop, and at the location he is going to. (R. at
961-62.) He further opined that Plaintiff is limited in his
ability to identify the correct bus stop/bus, as well as in
his ability to ask for, understand, and carry out
instructions to take a trip. (Id.)
27, 2017, Dr. Bhat completed medical source statements. (R.
at 1422-28.) He opined that in an eight-hour workday,
Plaintiff can stand for two hours, fifteen minutes at a time;
walk for one hour, fifteen minutes at a time; and sit for two
hours, fifteen minutes at a time. (R. at 1422, 1427.) He
opined that Plaintiff can occasionally lift up to five pounds
and rarely lift up to twenty pounds. (R. at 1422, 1426.) Dr.
Bhat found that Plaintiff can perform simple grasping and
pushing and pulling, but no fine manipulation, and cannot use
his feet for repetitive movements such as operating foot
controls. (R. at 1422-23.) He opined that Plaintiff can
rarely reach with his right arm and never reach with his left
arm; can occasionally handle with his right and left hands;
and occasionally finger with his right and left hands. (R. at
1426-27.) Dr. Bhat further concluded that Plaintiff cannot
crawl, climb steps, or climb ladders, and can occasionally
bend, crouch/squat, and stoop. (R. at 1423, 1427.) He opined
that Plaintiff is not able to reach above shoulder level. (R.
at 1423, 1427.) Dr. Bhat found that Plaintiff's
condition is likely to deteriorate if he is under stress and
that he is likely to have two or more partial or full day
unscheduled absences per month due to his conditions, pain,
and/or side effects of medication. (R. at 1423, 1427-28.) Dr.
Bhat stated that Plaintiff's musculoskeletal pain, PTSD,
anxiety, and migraines would be adversely affected by stress.
(R. at 1423.) He reviewed Plaintiff's medical records and
treatment notes in completing the medical statements and
stated that his assessment was premised upon Plaintiff's
diagnoses of migraines, hepatitis C, Meniere's disease,
HIV, anxiety, and PTSD. (R. at 1428.)
Consultative Examiner, Robert D. Whitehead, M.D.
February 8, 2016, Dr. Whitehead examined Plaintiff in
connection with his Social Security disability claim. (R. at
1401-1404.) Based on his examination, Dr. Whitehead concluded
that Plaintiff could “perform modified light duty jobs
and/or mostly sedentary jobs.” (R. at 1404.) Dr.
Whitehead opined that Plaintiff “could not perform
repetitive lifting, repetitive bending and he likely would be
limited to standing for 30 minutes at a time.”
State-Agency Reviewing Physician
February 24, 2016, on reconsideration of Plaintiff's
claim, state-agency reviewing physician Esberdado Villanueva,
M.D., reviewed the record and assessed Plaintiff's
physical residual functional capacity (“RFC”).
(R. at 750-51.) Dr. Villanueva opined that Plaintiff can
occasionally lift and/or carry fifty pounds, frequently lift
and/or carry twenty-five pounds, stand and/or walk about six
hours in an eight-hour workday, and sit for six hours in an
eight-hour workday. (R. at 750.) He found Plaintiff had no
limitations in pushing and/or pulling (including operation of
hand and/or foot controls), other than as stated for his
ability to lift and carry. (Id.) He further opined
Plaintiff can frequently climb ramps/stairs, stoop, kneel,
crouch, and crawl, and can occasionally climb
ladders/ropes/scaffolds, and should avoid concentrated
exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, poor ventilation,
etc. (R. at 750-51.) He found that Plaintiff had no
manipulative, visual, or communicative limitations. (R. at
THE ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION
30, 2018 the ALJ issued her decision. (R. at 19-34.) The ALJ
first found that Plaintiff meets the insured status
requirements through September 30, 2020. (Id. at
21.) At step one of the sequential evaluation process,
ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since December 15, 2014, the alleged onset
date. (Id. at 22.) At step two, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the severe impairments of “human
immunodeficiency virus (HIV) with peripheral neuropathy;
hepatitis C; migraine headaches; bilateral carpal tunnel
syndrome; left mild ulnar neuropathy; minimal degenerative
disc disease, cervical spine; chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease (COPD)/emphysema/asthma; Meniere's disease;
depressive disorder; anxiety disorder and post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD).” (Id.) At step three,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one
of the listed impairments described in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id. at 23.) The ALJ set
forth Plaintiff's RFC as follows:
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that
the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)
except that he could occasionally climb ramps and stairs,
crawl, push/pull with the left lower extremity; or work in
temperature extremes/humidity/atmospheric conditions;
frequently stoop, kneel, crouch and handle/finger; never
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and never work around
hazards such as unprotected heights or exposure to moving
mechanical parts. Mentally the claimant is able to perform
simple routine tasks at an average pace, without strict time
or production demands; can interact occasionally with
coworkers and supervisors on matters limited to the
straightforward exchange of information without teamwork or
tandem work, but duties should not require interaction with
the general public; and can adapt to occasional changes in
duties that are explained.
(R. at 26.) In assessing Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ
considered the medical opinion evidence. The ALJ considered
each of Dr. Bhat's opinions, assigning “no
weight” to his June 18, 2015 opinion, “some
weight” to his March 21, 2016 opinion, and
“partial weight” to his July 27, 2017 opinions.
(R. at 29-30.) The ALJ assigned “partial weight”
to the opinions of consultative examiner Dr. Whitehead and
consultative psychologist Michele Evans, Ph.D. (R. at 30-31.)
Finally, the ALJ assigned “some weight” to the
opinions of the state-agency reviewing physician and
psychologists. (R. at 31.)
on the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that even though
Plaintiff is unable to perform his past work, he can perform
jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy. (R. at 32.) She therefore concluded that Plaintiff
was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (R. at 33.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing a case under the Social Security Act, the Court
“must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it
‘is supported by substantial evidence and was made
pursuant to proper legal standards.'” Rabbers
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir.
2009) (quoting Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007)); see also 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) (“The findings of the Commissioner
of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by
substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .”).
Under this standard, “substantial evidence is defined
as ‘more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a
preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Rogers, 486 F.3d at 241
(quoting Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994)).
the substantial evidence standard is deferential, it is not
trivial. The Court must “‘take into account
whatever in the record fairly detracts from [the]
weight'” of the Commissioner's decision.
TNS, Inc. v. NLRB, 296 F.3d 384, 395 (6th Cir. 2002)
(quoting Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S.
474, 487 (1951)). Nevertheless, “if substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's decision, this Court defers
to that finding ‘even if there is substantial evidence
in the record that would have supported an opposite
conclusion.'” Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Key
v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997)).
even if the ALJ's decision meets the substantial evidence
standard, “‘a decision of the Commissioner will
not be upheld where the SSA fails to follow its own
regulations and where that error prejudices a claimant on the
merits or deprives the claimant of a substantial
right.'” Rabbers, 582 F.3d at 651 (quoting
Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 746
(6th Cir. 2007)).
forth above, Plaintiff raises two issues in his Statement of
Errors (ECF No. 10). First, he asserts that the ALJ failed to
properly evaluate the opinions of his treating physician, Dr.
Bhat. Second, he asserts that the ALJ improperly evaluated
the opinion of the consultative examining physician, Dr.
Whitehead. The undersigned considers each of these
contentions of error in turn.
The ALJ's Evaluation of Dr. Bhat's Opinions
According to Plaintiff, the ALJ failed to provide “good
reasons” supported by substantial evidence for
discounting the opinions of his treating physician, Dr. Bhat.
The Commissioner counters that the ALJ reasonably declined to
give controlling weight to the extreme and/or unsubstantiated
opinions of Dr. Bhat. The undersigned agrees with the
Commissioner and finds Plaintiff's first contention of
error to be without merit.
must consider all medical opinions that she receives in
evaluating a claimant's case. 20 C.F.R. §
416.927(c). The applicable regulations define medical
opinions as “statements from acceptable medical sources
that reflect judgments about the nature and severity of your