United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
Maticia A. Hankinson, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
L. GRAHAM UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Maticia A. Hankinson brings this action under 42 U.S.C.
§§405(g) for review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”)
denying her applications for disability insurance benefits
and supplemental security income. In a decision dated
December 30, 2016, the administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) found that plaintiff had severe
impairments consisting of obesity, hypertension, an affective
disorder, an anxiety disorder, and a personality disorder. R.
36. After considering the entire record, the ALJ found that
plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) would permit her to perform work at all
exertional levels, and that
[m]entally, she can perform simple, repetitive tasks where
there are infrequent changes in work duties or processes.
Work tasks should not involve fast assembly line pace, strict
production quotas, more than occasional contact with
supervisors and coworkers, or direct interaction with the
R. 38. After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert, the ALJ decided that there were jobs which plaintiff
could perform and that plaintiff was not disabled. R. 42-45.
matter is before the court for consideration of the
Commissioner's December 11, 2019, objections (Doc. 19) to
the December 9, 2019, report and recommendation of the
magistrate judge recommending that the decision of the
Commissioner be reversed, and that the case be remanded for
further proceedings. Plaintiff has filed a response to the
objections. Doc. 20.
Standard of Review
party objects within the allotted time to a report and
recommendation, the court “shall make a de
novo determination of those portions of the report or
specified proposed findings or recommendations to which
objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see
also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). Upon review, the court
“may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part,
the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate
judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
court's review “is limited to determining whether
the Commissioner's decision ‘is supported by
substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal
standards.'” Ealy v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 594 F.3d 504, 512 (6th Cir. 2010) (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.”). Even if supported by substantial
evidence, however, “‘a decision of the
Commissioner will not be upheld where the [Commissioner]
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 v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 746
(6th Cir. 2007)).
advanced two grounds for reversal in her statement of errors:
first, that the ALJ failed to give good reasons for
discounting the opinion of her treating psychiatrist, Dr.
Eric Layne; and second, that the ALJ erred in failing to
explain why the mental RFC did not include certain
limitations expressed in the opinion of a state agency
consultant after giving that opinion great weight. The
magistrate judge addressed only the second ground, concluding
that it warranted reversing the Commissioner's decision
and remanding the case for further proceedings before the
ALJ. The Commissioner objects to the magistrate judge's
August 11, 2014, report, Cynthia Waggoner, Psy.D., a state
agency consultant, opined that plaintiff was able to perform
simple, repetitive, one to two step tasks with infrequent
changes, no strict production quotas, and no more than
superficial social interactions. R. 92-93. In her November 8,
2014, report, Karen Terry, Ph.D., a state agency consultant,
agreed with Dr. Wagonner's opinion, and expressed the
additional mental limitations regarding plaintiff's
capacity to work: “Due to her anxiety, she should not
be made to travel in unfamiliar places, frequently interact
with unfamiliar others, or use public transportation as a
part of her job duties.” R. 117-118. See Griffith
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 582 Fed.Appx. 555, 563 (6th
Cir. 2014)(the explanation section of the form reflects the
doctor's actual findings).
gave the mental assessments of the state agency consultants
“great weight as the assessments are generally
consistent with and well supported by the evidence of the
record as a whole and are accepted as an accurate
representation of the claimant's mental status.” R.
42. The RFC essentially incorporated most of the limitations
posed by Drs. Waggoner and Terry. However, as the magistrate
judge noted, the RFC did not include any limitations
regarding using public transportation as a part of job duties
and travel to unfamiliar places. Doc. 18, p. 7. The ALJ never
stated that he did not agree with these travel restrictions
posed by Dr. Terry, nor did he otherwise explain why he did
not include these limitations in the RFC.
court agrees with the reasoning of the magistrate judge. The
ALJ, not a medical expert, ultimately determines the
claimant's RFC. Coldiron v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 391 Fed.Appx. 435, 439 (6th Cir. 2010); 20 C.F.R.
§§404.1527(e)(2) and 404.1546(c). An ALJ's
decision to give weight to medical opinion evidence does not
require the ALJ to incorporate every restriction proposed by
the medical source. Salisbury v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., No. 5:11-CV-2277, 2013 WL 427733, *7 (N.D. Ohio
Feb. 1, 2013). “Even where an ALJ provides ‘great
weight' to an opinion, there is no requirement that an
ALJ adopt a state agency psychologist's opinions
verbatim; nor is the ALJ required to adopt the state agency
psychologist's limitations wholesale.” Reeves
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 618 Fed.Appx. 267, 275 (6th
if the ALJ accepts a medical opinion but does not include a
restriction recommended by that expert in the RFC, the ALJ
must explain why he did not do so. Under SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL
374184, at *7 (July 2, 1996), the ALJ's RFC assessment
“must include a discussion of why reported
symptom-related functional limitations and restrictions can
or cannot reasonably be accepted as consistent with the
medical and other evidence.” SSR 96-8p further
provides, “If the RFC assessment conflicts with an
opinion from a medical source, the adjudicator must explain
why the opinion was not adopted.” Id. See Davidson
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 3:16CV2794, 2018 WL
1453472, at *1-2 (N.D. Ohio Mar. 23, 2018)(remand warranted
where the ALJ gave great weight to the opinion of a medical
source but did not explain why he did not include two
limitations identified by that expert in the RFC); Howard
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 2:16-cv-1104, 2018 WL
852361, at *4-6 (S.D. Ohio Feb. 14, 2018)(recommending remand
where the ALJ stated that the RFC was consistent with the
opinion of the consultative examiner but did not explain why
he did not incorporate all of the opined limitations in the
RFC), adopted by 2018 WL 1336927 (S.D. Ohio Mar. 1,
2018); Reed v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No.
1:16-CV-572, 2017 WL 1531872, at *6 (W.D. Mich. April 28,
2017)(remanding case where ALJ gave great weight to
expert's RFC worksheet, but did not explain why he did
not include restrictions on general public contact and
limitations on contact with co-workers and supervisors in the
RFC). The ALJ's failure to explain why the additional