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Baker v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

January 5, 2018

LAWRENCE D. BAKER, SR., Plaintiff,

          Dlott, J.


          Karen L. Litkovitz, United States Magistrate Judge


         Plaintiff Lawrence D. Baker, Sr. brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI"). This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs statement of errors (Doc. 7) and the Commissioner's response in opposition (Doc. 10).

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed his applications for DIB and SSI in July 2013, alleging disability since June 7, 2013 due to a combination of physical and mental impairments. These applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff, through counsel, requested and was afforded a hearing before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Thuy-Anh T. Nguyen on November 13, 2015. Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") appeared and testified at the ALJ hearing. On February 3, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiffs DIB and SSI applications. Plaintiffs request for review by the Appeals Council was denied, making the decision of the ALJ the final administrative decision of the Commissioner.

         II. Analysis

         A. Legal Framework for Disability Determinations

         To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must suffer from a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) (DIB), l382c(a)(3)(A) (SSI). The impairment must render the claimant unable to engage in the work previously performed or in any other substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2), l382c(a)(3)(B).

         Regulations promulgated by the Commissioner establish a five-step sequential evaluation process for disability determinations:

1) If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, the claimant is not disabled.
2) If the claimant does not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment - i.e., an impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities - the claimant is not disabled.
3) If the claimant has a severe impairments) that meets or equals one of the listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations and meets the duration requirement, the claimant is disabled.
4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him or her from doing his or her past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled.
5) If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is disabled.

Robbers v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec, 582 F.3d 647, 652 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 4O4.l52O(a)(4)(i)-(v), 404.1520(b)-(g)). The claimant has the burden of proof at the first four steps of the sequential evaluation process. Id.; Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 378 F.3d 541, 548 (6th Cir. 2004). Once the claimant establishes a prima facie case by showing an inability to perform the relevant previous employment, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other substantial gainful employment and that such employment exists in the national economy. Rabbets, 582 F.3d at 652; Harmon v. Apfel, 168 F.3d 289, 291 (6th Cir. 1999).

         B. The Administrative Law Judge's Findings

         The ALJ applied the sequential evaluation process and made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

1. The [plaintiff) meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2018.
2. The [plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 7, 2013, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The [plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease; hypertension; hyperlipidemia; cardiovascular disease including atrial fibrillation; chronic heart failure; obesity; depressive/bipolar disorder; attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); and rule out borderline intellectual functioning (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)[1].
4. The [plaintiff] does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the [ALJ] finds that the [plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he can occasionally climb steps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; frequently balance, kneel, and crouch; and occasionally stoop and crawl. He should avoid concentrated exposure to unprotected heights and heavy machinery. The [plaintiff] is able to understand, remember, and carry out concrete simple 1-2 step routine tasks/instructions, but should have no constant pace or high production standards. He is limited to occasional and simple changes in duties or in a work setting and should have no interaction with the general public. The [plaintiff) is limited to brief, occasional, and superficial interaction with coworkers or supervisors on shared tasks.
6. The [plaintiff] is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and416.965).[2]
7. The [plaintiff] was born [in] ., .1962 and was 50 years old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The [plaintiff] has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the [plaintiff] is "not disabled, " whether or not the [plaintiff] has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Considering the [plaintiff]'s age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the [plaintiff] can perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)).[3]
11. The [plaintiff] has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from June 7, 2013, through the date of this decision (20 ...

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