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Deaton v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

June 12, 2013

BRIAN DEATON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

KAREN L. LITKOVITZ, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits (DIB). This matter is before the Court on plaintiff's Statement of Errors (Doc. 6), the Commissioner's response in opposition (Doc. 11), and plaintiff's reply memorandum (Doc. 17).

I. Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed an application for DIB in November of 2008, alleging disability since February 25, 2008, [1] due to a back injury, a "shattered left knee, " diabetes and asthma. (Tr. 199). Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff, through counsel, requested and was granted a de novo hearing before administrative law judge (ALJ) Deborah Smith. Plaintiff, a medical expert (ME) and a vocational expert (VE) appeared and testified at the ALJ hearing. On December 21, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's DIB application. Plaintiff's request for review by the Appeals Council was denied, making the decision of the ALJ the final administrative decision of the Commissioner.

II. Analysis

A. Legal Framework for Disability Determinations

To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must suffer from a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The impairment must render the claimant unable to engage in the work previously performed or in any other substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2).

Regulations promulgated by the Commissioner establish a five-step sequential evaluation process for disability determinations:

1) If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, the claimant is not disabled.
2) If the claimant does not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment- i.e., an impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities - the claimant is not disabled.
3) If the claimant has a severe impairment(s) that meets or equals one of the listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations and meets the duration requirement, the claimant is disabled.
4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him or her from doing his or her past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled.
5) If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is disabled.

Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 652 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing§§ 404.1520(a) (4)(i)-(v), 404.1520(b)-(g)). The claimant has the burden of proof at the first four steps of the sequential evaluation process. Id.; Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 548 (6th Cir. 2004). Once the claimant establishes a prima facie case by showing an inability to perform the relevant previous employment, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other substantial gainful employment and that such employment exists in the national economy. Rabbers, 582 F.3d at 652; Harmon v. Apfel, 168 F.3d 289, 291 (6th Cir. 1999).

B. The Administrative Law Judge's Findings

The ALJ applied the sequential evaluation process and made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

1. The [plaintiff met] the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2012.
2. The [plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 22, 2008, the amended alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq. ).
3. The [plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; history of right bicep tendon rupture; bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome; adjustment disorder with depression; anxiety disorder NOS (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. The [plaintiff] does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the [ALJ] finds that the [plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform the following: lift ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently; sit six hours in an eight-hour day with the option to sit or stand up to five minutes every hour; standing/walking two hours in an eight-hour day; occasional posturals except no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequent, but not constant use of hands; avoid concentrated ...

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