United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division, Dayton
DECISION AND ORDER
L. Ovington United States Magistrate Judge
Cheryl Harris seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's
final administrative determination denying her application
for Supplemental Security Income. She has filed applications
twice. The Social Security Administration granted her first
one, and she received benefits from at least the mid-1990s
through 2009. (Doc. #8, PageID #1025). Her benefits
stopped-not because her health improved but-because she was
sent to prison. See 42 U.S.C. § 1382(e)(1)(A)
(no person is eligible for Supplemental Security Income
during months he or she “is an inmate of a public
was released from prison in 2014. She protectively filed her
second application for Supplemental Security Income on
February 6, 2014, asserting she had been under a disability
since 1995. See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(j)(1).
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Mark Hockensmith found that
she was not disabled and consequently denied her second
application for Supplemental Security Income.
finds many flaws in ALJ Hockensmith's decision. She
argues, in part, that he failed to reasonably account for the
Administration's previous award of disability benefits to
her. She also contends that the ALJ failed to adequately
weigh the opinions of her treating physicians. She seeks an
Order remanding this case for an immediate award of benefits
rather than for further proceedings.
Commissioner finds no error in the ALJ's decision and
argues that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
findings. The Commissioner seeks an Order affirming the
denial of Plaintiff's second application for Supplemental
eligibility to receive Supplemental Security Income centered
on whether she was under a “disability” as
defined by social security law. See 42 U.S.C. §
1381a; see also Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S.
467, 470 (1986). Narrowed to its statutory definition, a
person is under a disability when her long-lasting (at least
one year) “medically determinable physical or mental
impairment” prevents her from engaging in “any
substantial gainful activity.” 42 U.S.C. §
1382c(a)(3)(A); see Lindsley v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 560 F.3d 601, 602 (6th Cir. 2009).
Plaintiff and Her Testimony
was a “younger” person (forty-eight years old)
when she filed her second application for Supplemental
Security Income. When she turned age fifty, she aged into the
Administration's category of a person “closely
approaching advanced age.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(d).
She holds a high-school GED but has no significant work
experience, at least since 1999. (Doc. #6, PageID #s
77, 224, 239).
testified during her administrative hearing that upon her
release from prison, she underwent a psychiatric evaluation
and ultimately began treatment with psychiatrist Ritesh Kool,
MD and in a program known as the Consumer Advocacy Model.
Plaintiff told the ALJ that she began mental-health treatment
because she had been “a little unstable all her
life…, so she knows she needs treatment in order to
function properly.” Id. at 78. She
participated in weekly group therapy in a woman's group
because she “had a lot of sexual abuse as a
child…, and it was like a processing group.”
Id. at 79.
informed the ALJ that she began treatment with the
Cornerstone Project in June 2015. Id. at 80. Later,
in December 2015, she began twice weekly treatment in the MAT
(Medication Assisted Treatment) Program. Id. When
asked what this involved, she said, “That is a lot of
drug and alcohol stuff.” Id. She was also
having one-on-one counseling during which they talk about her
personal issues that could have caused her drug and alcohol
mental-health treatment she received after leaving prison
made her feel less angry, but she still had a lot of problems
with depression. Id. at 81. She has times when she
just wants to “sleep and sleep and sleep for days on
end.” Id. In the past, she used drugs to help
bring herself out of depression. She told the ALJ that she
was fighting against “the using of drugs-illegal
drugs.” Id. She will go through this fight
against illegal drug use and depression two or three times a
month, but sometimes an episode will last two weeks. She
noted, “I don't even want to get up and eat,
shower, or anything.” Id.
she lived by herself in an apartment. Id. at 71. She
testified that she does not really have friends and does not
want to be around other people. Id. at 90. She
It makes me uncomfortable. I mean, I don't trust
people…, I feel like people … always have an
ulterior motive, you know what I mean? Like they're there
because they're going to try and get-rob me or steal
something, take my Suboxone, something, there's always
Id. at 90. Plaintiff also has problems with
concentration. She has trouble reading and remembering what
she's read. She explained, “Sometimes I can be
talking to somebody and I don't even know what
they're saying, I'll be looking at them, I don't
even know, I don't even hear them.” Id. at
physical health problems include obesity-she is
5'9” inches tall and weighs 250 pounds.
Id. at 71. She easily gets short of breath and uses
a rescue inhaler a couple of times each day, especially when
she walks. Id. at 84-85. She typically walks a block
and a half. Id. at 85.
has arthritic pain and bone spurs in her neck and low back.
She explained that she has “congenital fusion of some
vertebrae…” in her lower back and in her neck.
Id. at 89. This has caused her to have arthritis
throughout her spine. Her pain is always present, and she
treats it with “a lot of ibuprofen.” Id.
at 85. At one point, Plaintiff fractured her pelvis.
Id. at 87. A physician prescribed a cane for her,
and she has used it since the fracture. She still has pelvic
pain that extends into her upper and lower extremities.
Id. at 88-89. Plaintiff testified that her lower
back pain makes it difficult for her to complete household
chores without resting. Id. at 91.
Medical Records and Opinions
Kool and Ms. Jones
her release from prison, Plaintiff underwent an initial
psychiatric evaluation with Dr. Kool in May 2014. He
diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic;
tobacco dependence; and major depressive disorder, chronic,
mild to moderate. Id. at 447. Dr. Kool reported that
Plaintiff had a history of repeated childhood sexual abuse
and a diagnosis of post- traumatic stress disorder (chronic).
Id. at 445. She also had a history of
attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and bipolar I
to Dr. Kool, Plaintiff's inventory of depression was
positive for depressed mood, initial insomnia, anhedonia,
low-self-esteem, low energy, problems concentrating,
increased appetite, and suicidal ideations with attempts. Her
symptoms of mania were without insomnia or racing thoughts.
Although she would be anxious, she could “complete
tasks including cleaning her house.” Id.
Plaintiff also described to Dr. Kool her “impulsive
money spending or sexual activity, [and] anger issues
Kool's mental-status examination of Plaintiff revealed,
among other things, that her mood was euthymic, her affect
was mildly labile, and she was cooperative. Id. Dr.
Kool explained, “Given her childhood abuse history, she
displays a personality structure that varies in emotional
stability that is consistent with low to moderate functioning
given her hospitalizations and legal history….”
2014, Dr. Kool completed a mental impairment questionnaire in
which he opined that Plaintiff experienced marked
restrictions in her abilities to maintain social functioning;
to sustain concentration, persistence, or pace; to work in
proximity to others without being distracted by them; to
respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; to get
along with coworkers; and to complete a normal workday
without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms.
Id. at 408-09. Dr. Kool also opined that Plaintiff
was extremely limited in her abilities to understand and
remember detailed instructions and to interact with the
general public. Id. at 408-09. Plaintiff's
impairments or treatment would cause her to be absent from
work more than three times each month, according to Dr. Kool.
Id. at 408.
Jones, MS, PCC, Plaintiff's mental-health counselor,
wrote a letter in February 2015 on Plaintiff's behalf for
the Housing Choice Voucher Program. Ms. Jones thought that
Plaintiff “meets the definition of disability under the
American Disability Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973.” Id. at 510. Ms.
Jones listed Plaintiff's ...