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Herman v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 24, 2017

LOLITA HERMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ENTRY: (1) AFFIRMING THE ALJ'S NON-DISABILITY FINDING AS SUPPORTED BY SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE; AND (2) TERMINATING THIS CASE ON THE 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. 11. At issue is whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in finding Plaintiff not "disabled" and therefore unentitled to Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). This case is before the Court on Plaintiffs Statement of Errors (doc. 11), the Commissioner's memorandum in opposition (doc. 12), Plaintiffs reply (doc. 13), the administrative record (doc. 6, 7), [1] and the record as a whole.

         I.

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed for SSI on January 20, 2011. PageID 189-94. Plaintiff claims disability as a result of a number of alleged impairments including, inter alia, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, cataracts, a retinal defect, borderline intellectual functioning, anxiety and an affective disorder. PageID 482.

         After an initial denial of her application, Plaintiff received a hearing before ALJ David Redmond on March 13, 2013. PageID 57-77. ALJ Redmond issued a written decision on April 26, 2013 finding Plaintiff not disabled. PageID 41-51. After the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review, Plaintiff appealed to this Court. PageID 32-26, 573. Following the filing of the parties' joint stipulation for remand, the Court reversed ALJ Redmond's non-disability finding and remanded the case for further proceedings. PageID 571-77.

         On remand, Plaintiff received a hearing before ALJ Benjamin Chaykin on March 1, 2016. PageID 504-40. ALJ Chaykin issued a written decision on March 15, 2016 finding Plaintiff not disabled. PageID 495-96. Specifically, the ALJ found at Step Five that, based upon Plaintiffs residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a reduced range of medium work, "there are jobs in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform[.]" PageID 485-95. Plaintiff did not seek Appeals Council review of ALJ Chaykin's decision, and instead elected to file a complaint in this Court. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1484(d) (stating that, in a case remanded by a federal court, "[i]f no exceptions are filed and the Appeals Council does not assume jurisdiction of [the] case, the decision of the [ALJ] becomes the final decision of the Commissioner after remand"). The case is now before the Court on Plaintiff timely appeal. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1484(c) and (d).

         B. Evidence of Record

         The evidence of record is adequately summarized in the ALJ Chaykin's (hereinafter referred to as "the ALJ") decision (PageID 479-96), Plaintiffs Statement of Errors (doc. 11), the Commissioner's memorandum in opposition (doc. 12), and Plaintiffs reply (doc. 13). The undersigned incorporates all of the foregoing and sets forth the facts relevant to this appeal herein.

         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. Robbers 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 ...


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