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Welsandt v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

February 23, 2017



          William H. Baughman, Jr. United States Magistrate Judge.


         Before me[1] is an action by Daniel E. Welsandt under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income.[2] The Commissioner has answered[3] and filed the transcript of the administrative record.[4] Under my initial[5] and procedural[6] orders, the parties have briefed their positions[7] and filed supplemental charts[8] and the fact sheet.[9] They have participated in a telephonic oral argument.[10]


         A. Background facts and decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)

         Welsandt who was 49 years old at the time of the administrative hearing, [11] has a ninth grade education.[12] He is not married, lives alone, and does not have any children.[13]

         The ALJ, whose decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, found that Welsandt had the following severe impairments: cervical degenerative disc disease, status post C5-6 microdiscectomy and fusion; lumbar degenerative disc disease; bilateral shoulder degenerative joint disease, status post arthroscopy; ulcerative colitis; and depressive disorder (20CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).[14]

         After concluding that the relevant impairments did not meet or equal a listing, the ALJ made the following finding regarding Welsandt's residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

Since August 1, 2008, the claimant has retained the residual functional capacity to perform all basic work activities described in 20 CFR 404.1521, 404.1545, 416.921 and 416.945 subject to the following limitations: lifting/carrying up to 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally; standing/walking for approximately six hours in an eight hour workday; sitting for approximately six hours in an eight hour workday; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps or stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; frequently balance; occasional bilateral reaching overhead; and limited to simple more complex tasks (SVP1 to SVP3) with no fast-paced work and no strict production quotas.[15]

         Relying on that residual functional capacity, the ALJ found Welsandt capable of his past relevant work as an industrial cleaner and, therefore, not under a disability.[16]

         B. Issues on judicial review

         Welsandt 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, Welsandt presents the following issues for judicial review:

• Whether the ALJ erred in failing to properly evaluate plaintiff's pain and the effect of pain on plaintiff's capacity to perform work.
• Whether the ALJ's assessment of plaintiff's RFC is supported by substantial evidence.[17]

         For the reasons that follow, I will conclude that the ALJ's finding of no disability is supported by substantial evidence and, therefore, must be affirmed.


         A. Standards of review

         1. Substantial evidence

         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.[18]

         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.[19] The court may not disturb the Commissioner's findings, even if the preponderance of the evidence favors the claimant.[20]

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

         B. Application of standards

         This matter initially focuses on whether the ALJ properly analyzed the claimant's assertions of disabling pain. Moreover, Welsandt contends that relying on the “outdated” reports of reviewing sources to the effect that Welsandt is capable of a ...

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