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Wolder v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 13, 2017

ELIZABETH WOLDER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Walter H. Rice District Judge

         REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION[1] 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

         This is 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”).[2] 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.[3] 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).

         I.

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff 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 appeal”).

         B. Evidence of Record

         In his 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.

         II. A.Standard of Review

         The 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).

         Substantial 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.

         The 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.

         B.Disability” Defined

         To be 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.

         Administrative 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 727, ...


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