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Stewart v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 24, 2017

MELISSA A. STEWART, 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. 6. At issue is whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in finding Plaintiff not “disabled” and therefore unentitled to Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and/or Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”).[1] This case is before the Court on Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (doc. 9), the Commissioner's memorandum in opposition (doc. 10), the administrative record (doc. 4), [2] and the record as a whole.

         I.

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed for DIB and SSI alleging a disability onset date of August 21, 2010. PageID 294-303. Plaintiff claims disability as a result of a number of alleged impairments including, inter alia, osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), a trial fibrillation, obesity, bipolar disorder, and panic disorder with agoraphobia. PageID 38.

         After an initial denial of her applications, Plaintiff received a hearing before ALJ Mark Hockensmith on July 23, 2015. PageID 57-126. The ALJ issued a written decision on August 11, 2015 finding Plaintiff not disabled. PageID 35-51. Specifically, the ALJ found at Step Five that, based upon Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a reduced range of sedentary work, [3] “there are jobs in that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform[.]” PageID 40-51.

         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 25-29. 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

         The evidence of record is adequately summarized in the ALJ's decision (PageID 37-51), Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (doc. 9) and the Commissioner's memorandum in opposition (doc. 10). 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. 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 ...


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