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Todd v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

February 23, 2017


          Dlott, J.


          Karen L. Litkovitz, United States 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 plaintiffs application for disability insurance benefits (DIB). This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs Statement of Errors (Doc. 8), the Commissioner's response in opposition (Doc. 14), and plaintiffs reply (Doc. 17).

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on August 6, 2012. Plaintiff alleged disability since November 8, 2011, due to "[n]eck injury going down both arms, mid back and lower back"; "[s]pine c-4 thru c-7 two fusions & muscle & soft tissue etc."; "[a]rms muscle & tissue damage from spine issues (c-4/c-7)"; "spine mid back"; "[s]pine lower back nerve damage goes down [through] both legs"; "[h]eadaches from spine c-4 [through] c-7"; high blood pressure treated with medication; "[e]motional distress from pain"; and "[w]eak[]ness in hands and arms from c-4 [through] c-7 spine." (Tr. 231). Plaintiffs application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff, through counsel, requested and was granted a de novo hearing before ALJ Penny Loucas. Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) appeared and testified at the ALJ hearing. On November 19, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiffs DIB 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. § 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.

Robbers 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. 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 met] the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2016.
2. The [plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 8, 2011, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. The [plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine status post fusion (C5-6 and C6-7), osteoarthritis and situational anxiety (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. The [plaintiff] does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of 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 light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except: She can occasionally push and pull bilaterally. She can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She can occasionally climb ramps or stairs. She can frequently balance and crawl. She can kneel and crouch on an unlimited basis. She can frequently perform bilateral overhead reaching. She must avoid unprotected heights. She has no limits in her memory. She can maintain her concentration, persistence or pace over a normal eight-hour workday and work week. She can interact with the general public, co-workers and supervisors but she should not be required to perform tasks involving mentoring, persuasion or conflict resolution. She is limited to routine type work where there are no demands for fast, machine paced, high production quota type work or piece rate type work. The [plaintiff] would be off task 10% of the time.
6. The [plaintiff] is capable of performing past relevant work as a cosmetologist and title clerk. This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the [plaintiffs] ...

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