[Stephanie L.] v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., No. 1:22-CV-619, 2023 WL 2365309 (W.D. Mich. Mar. 6, 2023) (Decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally J. Berens, by consent)

[Stephanie L.] v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., No. 1:22-CV-619, 2023 WL 2365309 (W.D. Mich. Mar. 6, 2023) (Decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally J. Berens, by consent)

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Briefs for purchase:

  • Plaintiff’s Brief
  • Plaintiff’s Reply Brief 

Issues briefed:

  1. 1)  The ALJ failed to comply with Social Security Ruling 15-1p in evaluating the

    impact of Plaintiff’s Interstitial Cystitis on her ability to perform sustained work activities.

  2. 2)  The ALJ did not properly discount Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and testimony.

  3. 3)  The ALJ’s reasons for not crediting the opinion of Dr. Wilkinson that Plaintiff cannot perform sustained work activities are not supported by substantial evidence.

Court decision:
The court found the ALJ did not specifically address Plaintiff’s alleged urinary frequency or explain why a limitation was not warranted in the RFC assessment for frequent urination, even though Plaintiff testified that she would need to use the bathroom “eight to ten times” during an eight-hour workday, although her reports of frequent urination varied. 2023 WL 2365309 at *4. The court noted the Commissioner’s contention that the vocational testimony that an employee would have about six minutes per hour, not including allowable breaks, to use the restroom without exceeding the allowable “off-task” limit arguably was consistent with Plaintiff’s need to use the restroom 8 to 10 times during an 8-hour workday.
Id. However, the court concluded that it is neither for the Commissioner nor the court to supply the ALJ’s rationale, as this is impermissible post hoc rationalization and the ALJ should address this issue in the first instance. Id. (citing Keeton v. Comm’r

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of Soc. Sec., 583 F. App’x 515, 524 (6th Cir. 2014)). The court therefore remanded to allow the ALJ to address whether additional limitations are warranted for Plaintiff’s alleged urinary frequency. Id. at *5.

The court also held that substantial evidence did not support the ALJ’s discounting of Plaintiff’s subjective complaints of disabling limitations. Id. The court agreed that Plaintiff’s daily activities, which included preparing simple microwave meals, limited housework, vacuuming, picking up her room once a week for ten to fifteen minutes, driving her children to school, ordering groceries on an app, picking them up curbside, and having her children unload them at home, lying down for most of the day after taking her children to school, bathing only once or twice a month due to pain and changing her clothes only about once per week, did not support an ability to perform work activities on a sustained basis. Id. at *6 (citing Cruse v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 502 F.3d 532, 542 (6th Cir. 2007); Blacha v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 927 F.2d 228, 231 (6th Cir. 1990); Rogers v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d at 248-49 (6th Cir. 2007); Walston v. Gardner, 381 F.2d 580, 586 (6th Cir. 1967)).

Further, the court rejected the Commissioner’s contention that her part-time work during the period at issue contradicted her allegations of disabling limitations, because nothing in the ALJ’s decision suggests that he considered her brief stints of work activity as a basis to discount her allegations of disabling symptoms; instead, the ALJ focused solely on whether she had engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. Id. at *6. Plaintiff’s failure to undergo a hysterectomy as her doctors had recommended was found not a proper basis for the ALJ to discount her subjective allegations, because the evidence on this issue does not suggest that the procedure would have affected the alleged disabling pain. Id.

Regarding the ALJ’s finding that the lack of referral to a pain management specialist was indicative that Plaintiff’s symptoms were not as severe as she alleged, the court acknowledged that an ALJ should not draw a negative inference from a Plaintiff’s failure to seek or adhere to treatment without considering possible reasons, including an inability to afford treatment or have access to free or low-cost medical services. Id. However, the court noted that the ALJ acknowledged Plaintiff was on Medicaid and it was not clear that Medicaid would not have paid for a pain management specialist. Id. Regardless, because there are other reasons to remand the matter for a proper evaluation of her subjective symptoms, on remand the ALJ should also consider whether Medicaid would cover services from a pain management specialist or played any part in the lack of a referral to a pain management specialist. Id.

In considering whether the ALJ erred in evaluating Plaintiff’s treating physician’s opinion regarding her physical impairments, the court found the ALJ did not err in finding the opinion unsupported because it failed to list objective evidence to support the limitations assessed, and in part was based on self-reported symptoms. Id. at *7. However, as for consistency, the court found the ALJ’s observations about normal gait, residual ankle instability, and obesity in support of his finding that Plaintiff could perform light work with additional limitations do not directly address her

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alleged pelvic pain. Moreover, while other reasons were cited supporting his consistency analysis, some of those findings lacked substantial evidence or warranted additional consideration for the reasons set forth regarding the ALJ’s subjective symptom analysis, requiring remand for reconsideration. Id.

Topics addressed:

  • Specific impairment - interstitial cystitis

  • RFC - frequent urination

  • RFC - off task findings

  • Subjective symptoms - daily activities

  • Subjective symptoms - work activity

  • Subjective symptoms - failure to follow treatment

  • Subjective symptoms - medical regimen

  • Medical opinions (new

  • Post hoc rationalization

law) - persuasiveness

Rulings addressed:

  • Social Security Ruling 96-8p

  • Social Security Ruling 15-1p