United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division
H. Rice District Judge
AND RECOMMENDATION THAT: (1) THE ALJ'S
NON-DISABILITY FINDING BE FOUND UNSUPPORTED BY SUBSTANTIAL
EVIDENCE, AND REVERSED; (2) THIS MATTER BE REMANDED TO THE
COMMISSIONER UNDER THE FOURTH SENTENCE OF 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) FOR PROCEEDINGS CONSISTENT WITH THIS OPINION; AND (3)
THIS CASE BE CLOSED
Michael J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge
a Social Security disability benefits appeal. At issue is
whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
erred in finding Plaintiff not “disabled” and
therefore unentitled to Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) and/or Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). This case is before the Court upon pro
se Plaintiffs Statement of Errors (doc. 12), the
Commissioner's memorandum in opposition (doc. 13),
pro se Plaintiffs reply (doc. 14), the
administrative record (doc. 6), and the record as a
whole. Because Plaintiff is proceeding pro
se, her filings and arguments are liberally construed in
her favor. Franklin v. Rose, 765 F.2d 82, 84-85 (6th
Cir.1985) (citations omitted).
filed an application for SSI and DIB asserting disability as
of September 1, 1980 on account of a number of impairments
including, inter alia, irritable bowel syndrome
(“IBS”), a history of migraine headaches,
anxiety, and depression. PageID 87-94.After an initial denial
of her application, Plaintiff received a hearing before ALJ
Gregory Kenyon on February 11, 2015. PageID 104-44. The ALJ
issued a written decision on April 24, 2015 finding Plaintiff
not disabled. PageID 85-94. Thereafter, the Appeals Council
denied review on June 8, 2016, making the ALJ's
non-disability finding the final administrative decision of
the Commissioner. PageID 59-62. Plaintiff, proceeding pro
se, then filed this timely appeal. Cook v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 480 F.3d 432, 435 (6th Cir.
2007) (noting that, “[u]nder the Federal Rules of
Appellate Procedure, [claimant] had 60 days from the Appeals
Council's notice of denial in which to file his
Evidence of Record
decision, the ALJ set forth a detailed recitation of the
underlying medical evidence in this case. PageID 87-92.
Plaintiff, in her Statement of Errors, also summarizes the
evidence of record. Doc. 12 at PageID 1140-42. The
Commissioner, in response to Plaintiff's Statement of
Errors, defers to the ALJ's recitation of the evidence,
and presents no objection to Plaintiff's summary. Doc. 13
at PageID 1145. Except as otherwise noted herein, the
undersigned incorporates the summary of evidence as set forth
by the ALJ and Plaintiff.
A.Standard of Review
Court's inquiry on a Social Security appeal is to
determine (1) whether the ALJ's non-disability finding is
supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the ALJ
employed the correct legal criteria. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742,
745-46 (6th Cir. 2007). In performing this review, the Court
must consider the record as a whole. Hephner v.
Mathews, 574 F.2d 359, 362 (6th Cir. 1978).
evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
When substantial evidence supports the ALJ's denial of
benefits, that finding must be affirmed, even if substantial
evidence also exists in the record upon which the ALJ could
have found Plaintiff disabled. Buxton v. Halter, 246
F.3d 762, 772 (6th Cir. 2001). Thus, the ALJ has a
“‘zone of choice' within which he [or she]
can act without the fear of court interference.”
Id. at 773.
second judicial inquiry -- reviewing the correctness of the
ALJ's legal analysis --may result in reversal even if the
ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence in
the record. Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 582
F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. 2009). “[A] decision of the
Commissioner will not be upheld where the [Social Security
Administration] fails to follow its own regulations and where
that error prejudices a claimant on the merits or deprives
the claimant of a substantial right.” Bowen,
478 F.3d at 746.
eligible for disability benefits, a claimant must be under a
“disability” as defined by the Social Security
Act. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Narrowed to its statutory
meaning, a “disability” includes physical and/or
mental impairments that are both “medically
determinable” and severe enough to prevent a claimant
from (1) performing his or her past job and (2) engaging in
“substantial gainful activity” that is available
in the regional or national economies. Id.
regulations require a five-step sequential evaluation for
disability determinations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).
Although a dispositive finding at any step ends the ALJ's
review, seeColvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d