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Dunham v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

October 20, 2017

DAVID L. DUNHAM, 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 Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). This case is before the Court upon Plaintiffs Statement of Errors (doc. 8), the Commissioner's memorandum in opposition (doc. 12), Plaintiffs reply (doc. 13), the administrative record (doc. 6), and the record as a whole.[2]

         I.

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB asserting disability as of October 10, 2011 as a result of a number of impairments including, inter alia, degenerative disc disease. PageID 47.

         After an initial denial of his application, Plaintiff received a hearing before ALJ Eric Anschuetz on June 12, 2015. PageID 60-107. The ALJ issued a written decision on August 17, 2015 finding Plaintiff not disabled. PageID 45-55. Specifically, the ALJ found at Step Four that, based upon Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a reduced range of light work, [3] he “was capable of performing past relevant work as an Insurance Sales Agent or Fund Raising Director.” PageID 54-55.

         Thereafter, the Appeals Council denied review on August 3, 2016, making the ALJ's non-disability finding the final administrative decision of the Commissioner. PageID 30-33. 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 45-55), Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (doc. 8), the Commissioner's memorandum in opposition (doc. 12), and Plaintiff's reply (doc. 13). The undersigned incorporates all of the foregoing and sets forth the facts relevant to this decision 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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