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Williams v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

January 6, 2017

CAROLYN V. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Dlott, J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KAREN L. LITKOVITZ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying plaintiffs application for supplemental security income (SSI). This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs Statement of Errors (Doc. 8), the Commissioner's response in opposition (Doc. 16), and plaintiffs reply memorandum (Doc. 17).

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff protectively filed her application for SSI in September 2012, alleging disability since July 1, 2008, due to bipolar disorder, depression and mania. (Tr. 177). Plaintiffs application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff requested and was granted a de novo hearing before administrative law judge (ALJ) Kevin J. Detherage. Plaintiff was represented at the hearing by a non-attorney representative. Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) appeared and testified at the ALJ hearing. On September 4, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiffs SSI application. Plaintiffs 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(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. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         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.

Rubbers v. Comm 'r of Sac. Sec. 582 F.3d 647, 652 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v), 416.920(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. Rubbers, 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] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 10, 2012, the application date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
2. The [plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: status post right rotator cuff tear and decompression surgery, status post mid humeral shaft fracture, status post right fifth metacarpal fracture, depression, affective disorder, anxiety, ...

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