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Caldwell v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 13, 2017

CRYSTAL CALDWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

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

         Introduction

         Before me[1] is an action by Crystal Denise Caldwell under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her 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]

         Facts

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

         Caldwell who was 52 years old at the time of the administrative hearing, [11] did not graduate high school but has a general equivalency diploma.[12] She lives alone in an apartment[13] and her past employment history includes working as a home health aide and nurse's assistant.[14]

         The ALJ, whose decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, found that Caldwell had the following severe impairments: cervical disc disease, right knee pain, obesity, back pain, and depression (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).[15]

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

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except she can frequently climb ramps and stairs. She can never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. She is able to perform tasks that do not require raising her arms over shoulder level. The claimant is able to perform simple and some multi-step tasks in a static setting. She is able to perform tasks that do not require close sustained focus/attention or sustained fast pace. Finally, she is limited to superficial interaction with others.[16]

         Given that residual functional capacity, the ALJ found Caldwell incapable of performing his past relevant work as a home health aide and nurse's assistant.[17] Applying the medical-vocational grids in Appendix 2 of the regulations, the ALJ found Caldwell not under a disability.[18]

         Based on an answer to a hypothetical question posed to the vocational expert at the hearing setting forth the residual functional capacity finding quoted above, the ALJ determined that a significant number of jobs existed locally and nationally that Caldwell could perform.[19] The ALJ, therefore, found Caldwell not under a disability.[20]

         B. Issues on judicial review

         Caldwell 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, Caldwell presents the following issues for judicial review:

• Whether the ALJ erred in determining that Ms. Caldwell retained the residual functional capacity to perform a range of light work.
• Whether the ALJ erred in relying on vocational expert testimony when finding that Ms. Caldwell could perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy.
• Whether remand is warranted for the consideration of new and material evidence.[21]

         For the reasons that follow, I will conclude that the ALJ's finding of no disability is not supported by substantial evidence and, therefore, must be reversed and remanded.

         Analysis

         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 ...

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