United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division
HEATHER E. EDWARDS, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Stephanie K. Bowman, United States Magistrate Judge.
Heather Edwards filed this Social Security appeal in order to
challenge the Defendant's finding that she is not
disabled. See 42 U.S.C. §405(g). Proceeding
through counsel, Plaintiff presents three claims of error for
this Court's review. As explained below, I conclude that
the ALJ's finding of non-disability should be AFFIRMED,
because it is supported by substantial evidence in the record
as a whole.
Summary of Administrative Record
first sought social security benefits based upon allegations
of disability beginning in 2011. Her claims were denied
initially and upon reconsideration, and she requested an
evidentiary hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), Amelia Lombardo, who subsequently also
denied her claims in a written decision dated January 23,
2013. (Tr. 107-120).
February 22, 2013, Plaintiff filed new applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), alleging
disability beginning on January 25, 2013, two days after the
prior adverse decision, based on multiple physical and mental
impairments. After her claims were denied initially and upon
reconsideration, Plaintiff again requested an evidentiary
hearing before an ALJ. On April 17, 2015, she appeared with
counsel and gave testimony before ALJ Henry Kramzyk; a
vocational expert also testified. (Tr. 39-103). ALJ Kramzyk
determined that new and material evidence showed a change in
Plaintiff's condition, such that he was not bound by the
previous ALJ's findings concerning Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity for work activity. See
Drummond v. Com'r of Soc Sec., 126 F.3d 837 (6th
Cir. 1997). Nevertheless, after reviewing the new evidence
including a new diagnosis of fibromyalgia, ALJ Kramzyk issued
a new adverse written decision on September 23, 2015,
concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 17-32).
was 39 years old at the time of her hearing. She has at least
a high school education,  and lives with her stepfather and 12
year old disabled son. She has past relevant work as a
tufting machine operator, a machine packager, an inventory
control clerk, and a shaping machine operator.
determined that Plaintiff has severe impairments of
fibromyalgia, major depressive disorder, panic disorder, and
general anxiety disorder with social phobia. Although
Plaintiff initially alleged disability due to additional
impairments including but not limited to degenerative bone
deterioration in her shoulders, lower back, hips, groin area,
both knees and right ankle, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome,
and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
(“COPD”), the ALJ determined that none of those
impairments were “severe.” (Tr. 20, 23). At the
hearing, Plaintiff additionally testified to tendonitis and a
bone spur in her right ankle and irritable bowel syndrome,
which the ALJ also found were nonsevere. (Id.). None
of Plaintiff's impairments, either alone or in
combination, meet or medically equal any Listing in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, such that Plaintiff would be
entitled to a presumption of disability. (Tr. 20).
undisputed that Plaintiff's impairments preclude her from
performing any of her past work. (Tr. 30). However, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform work at a light
level, with additional non-exertional limitations,
meaning she can lift or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10
pounds frequently, can sit for up to 6 hours a day, and can
stand and/or walk for up to 6 hours a day. She can
occasionally operate foot controls with the right lower
extremity. She can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds.
She can occasionally climb ramps or stairs. She can
occasionally balance, stoop, or crouch. She can never kneel
or crawl. She can frequently do handling and fingering with
both hands. She is able to understand, remember, and carry
out short, simple, repetitive instructions. She is able to
sustain attention and concentration for 2-hour periods at a
time and for 8 hours in the workday on short, simple,
repetitive instructions. She can use judgment in making work
decisions related to short, simple, repetitive instructions.
She requires an occupation with only occasional co-worker
contact and supervision. She requires an occupation with set
routine and procedures, and few changes during the workday.
She requires an occupation with only superficial contact with
the public on routine matters. She cannot perform fast-paced
production work. She can maintain regular attendance and be
punctual within customary tolerances. She can perform
activities within a schedule. She must avoid concentrated
exposure to wetness, including wet, slippery, uneven
surfaces. She must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes,
odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation. She must avoid
concentrated exposure to hazards, such as unprotected heights
and dangerous machinery.
(Tr. 22-23). Although still within the “light”
exertional range, the RFC determined by ALJ Kramzyk in
September 2015 was significantly more limited than the RFC
previously determined by ALJ Lombardo in January 2013, when
Plaintiff had limitations only to “low stress
work” with “frequent fingering and
handling.” (Tr. 112).
upon her limitations and testimony from the vocational
expert, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff remained capable of
performing a significant number of unskilled jobs that exist
in the national economy, including the representative
occupations of production assembler, small products
assembler, and packaging line worker. (Tr. 31). Therefore,
the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not under a disability.
The Appeals Council denied review, leading Plaintiff to file
this judicial appeal.
Statement of Errors, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by:
(1) failing to consider evidence that Plaintiff would have an
excessive level of absenteeism due to the number of her
doctor's appointments; (2) improperly assessing
Plaintiff's credibility; and (3) giving “little
weight” to the opinions of Plaintiff's therapist. I
find no reversible error.
Judicial Standard of Review
eligible for benefits, a claimant must be under a
“disability.” See 42 U.S.C.
§1382c(a). Narrowed to its statutory meaning, a
“disability” includes only physical or mental
impairments that are both “medically
determinable” and severe enough to prevent the
applicant from (1) performing his or her past job and (2)
engaging in “substantial gainful activity” that
is available in the regional or national economies. See
Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 469-70 (1986).
court is asked to review the Commissioner's denial of
benefits, the court's first inquiry is to determine
whether the ALJ's non-disability finding is supported by
substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 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)
(additional citation and internal quotation omitted). In
conducting this review, the court should consider the record
as a whole. Hephner v. Mathews, 574 F.2d 359, 362
(6th Cir. 1978). If substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's denial of benefits, then that finding must be
affirmed, even if substantial evidence also exists in the
record to support a finding of disability. Felisky v.
Bowen, 35 F.3d 1027, 1035 (6th Cir. 1994). As the Sixth
Circuit has explained:
The Secretary's findings are not subject to reversal
merely because substantial evidence exists in the record to
support a different conclusion.... The substantial evidence
standard presupposes that there is a ‘zone of
choice' within which the Secretary may proceed without
interference from the courts. If the Secretary's decision
is supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court must
Id. (citations omitted).
considering an application for supplemental security income
or for disability benefits, the Social Security Agency is
guided by the following sequential benefits analysis: at Step
1, the Commissioner asks if the claimant is still performing
substantial gainful activity; at Step 2, the Commissioner
determines if one or more of the claimant's impairments
are “severe;” at Step 3, the Commissioner
analyzes whether the claimant's impairments, singly or in
combination, meet or equal a Listing in the Listing of
Impairments; at Step 4, the Commissioner determines whether
or not the claimant can still perform his or her past
relevant work; and finally, at Step 5, if it is established
that claimant can no longer perform his or her past relevant
work, the burden of proof shifts to the agency to determine
whether a significant number of other jobs which the claimant
can perform exist in the national economy. See Combs v.
Commissioner of Soc. Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 643 (6th Cir.
2006); 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520, 416.920.
plaintiff bears the ultimate burden to prove by sufficient
evidence that she is entitled to disability benefits. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1512(a). A claimant seeking benefits must
present sufficient evidence to show that, during the relevant
time period, she suffered an impairment, or combination of
impairments, expected to last at least twelve months, that
left him unable to perform any job. 42 U.S.C. §