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Williams v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 17, 2017

WILLIAM V. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

         DECISION AND ENTRY: (1) REVERSING THE ALJ'S NON-DISABILITY FINDING AS UNSUPPORTED BY SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE; (2) REMANDING THIS CASE TO THE COMMISSIONER UNDER THE FOURTH SENTENCE OF 42 U.S.C. § 405(G) FOR PROCEEDINGS CONSISTENT WITH THIS OPINION; AND (3) TERMINATING THIS CASE ON THE COURT'S DOCKET

          Michael J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge

         This Social Security disability benefits appeal is before the undersigned for disposition based upon the parties' full consent. Doc. 7. At issue is whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in finding Plaintiff not “disabled” and therefore unentitled to Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”).[1] This case is before the Court upon Plaintiffs Statement of Errors (doc. 8), the Commissioner's memorandum in opposition (doc. 9), Plaintiffs reply (doc. 10), the administrative record (doc. 6), and the record as a whole.[2]

         I.

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed an application DIB asserting disability as of August 16, 2013 as a result of a number of impairments including, inter alia, lumbar stenosis, cervical fusion residuals, and exogenous obesity. PageID 60.

         After initial denials of his applications, Plaintiff received a hearing before ALJ James Knapp on May 16, 2014. PageID 72-91. The ALJ issued a written decision on July 17, 2014 finding Plaintiff not disabled. PageID 57-68. Specifically, the ALJ found at Step Five that, based upon Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, [3] “there are jobs in that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform[.]” PageID 61.

         Thereafter, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's non-disability finding the final administrative decision of the Commissioner. PageID 45. See Casey v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993). Plaintiff then filed this timely appeal. Cook v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 480 F.3d 432, 435 (6th Cir. 2007).

         B. Evidence of Record

         In his decision, the ALJ set forth a detailed recitation of the underlying medical evidence in this case. PageID 57-68. Plaintiff, in his Statement of Errors, also summarizes the evidence of record. Doc. 8 at PageID 463-67. 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. 9 at PageID 481. 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 whether (1) the ALJ's non-disability finding is supported by substantial evidence, and (2) 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).

         The court must perform the first judicial inquiry with the understanding that “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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