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Jeanene Jackson v. Commissioner of Social Security

November 18, 2011

JEANENE JACKSON,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William H. Baughman, Jr. Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Introduction

This is an action for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying the applications of the plaintiff, Jeanene Jackson, for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. The parties have consented to magistrate judge's jurisdiction.

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), whose decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, found that Jackson had severe impairments consisting of ulcerative colitis and Type 2 diabetes mellitus.*fn1 The ALJ made the following finding regarding Jackson's residual functional capacity:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the exertional residual functional capacity to lift up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She can stand and/or walk six hours out of an eight-hour day and sit six hours out of an eight-hour day. She can also push or pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. From the non-exertional standpoint, the claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs but never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She can frequently stoop. Moreover, claimant will require two more restroom breaks during a workday in addition to regularly scheduled morning, lunch and afternoon breaks. She is unable to perform work around dangerous machinery and or unprotected heights.*fn2 Given the above-quoted residual functional capacity finding, the ALJ determined that Jackson could perform her past relevant work as a file clerk.*fn3 He, therefore, found Jackson not under a disability.*fn4

Jackson asks for reversal of the Commissioner's decision on the ground that it does not have the support of substantial evidence in the administrative record. Specifically, she complains that the ALJ erred by failing to recognize at step two of the sequential evaluation process any mental impairments. Further, she argues that the residual functional capacity finding lacks the support of substantial evidence because the ALJ did not comply with the requirements of the treating source rule with respect to the evaluation of Jeffrey Katz, M.D., her treating gastroenterologist.

I conclude that the ALJ did not commit reversible error by failing to recognize mental impairments as severe at step two and that the residual functional capacity finding has the support of substantial evidence. The Commissioner's decision to deny Jackson's applications, therefore, must be affirmed.

Analysis

1. Standard of review

The Sixth Circuit in Buxton v. Halter reemphasized the standard of review applicable to decisions of the ALJs in disability cases:

Congress has provided for federal court review of Social Security administrative decisions. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). However, the scope of review is limited under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g): "The findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive...." In other words, on review of the Commissioner's decision that claimant is not totally disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, the only issue reviewable by this court is whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is " 'more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.' "

The findings of the Commissioner are not subject to reversal merely because there exists in the record substantial evidence to support a different conclusion. This is so because there is a "zone of choice" within which the Commissioner can act, without the fear of court interference.*fn5 Viewed in the context of a jury trial, all that is necessary to affirm is that reasonable minds could reach different conclusions on the evidence. If such is the case, the Commissioner survives "a directed verdict" and wins.*fn6 The court may not disturb the Commissioner's findings, even if the preponderance of the evidence favors the claimant.*fn7

I will review the findings of the ALJ at issue here consistent with that ...


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