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Ehrlich v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

January 16, 2018

TRACY L. EHRLICH, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff, Tracy L. Ehrlich, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), a period of disability, and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's nondisability finding is REVERSED and this case is REMANDED to the Commissioner and Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) under Sentence Four of § 405(g).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff applied for DIB, a period of disability, and SSI on October 16, 2013, alleging disability beginning October 1, 2011, due to numerous physical and mental impairments. (Doc. 14-2, Tr. 27, PAGEID # 92). An Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”) held a hearing (Id., Tr. 42-62, PAGEID # 107-27) after Plaintiff's application was denied initially (Doc. 14-3, Tr. 65- 78, PAGEID #: 131-44) and upon reconsideration (Id., Tr. 95-110, PAGEID #: 161-76). On January 29, 2016, the ALJ denied benefits in a written decision. (Doc. 14-2, Tr. 24-41, PAGEID # 89-106). That decision became final when the Appeals Council denied review on January 3, 2017. (Id., Tr. 1-6, PAGEID #: 66-71).

         Plaintiff filed this case on March 3, 2017 (Doc. 1), and the Commissioner filed the administrative record on June 5, 2017 (Doc. 14). Plaintiff filed a Statement of Specific Errors on July 19, 2017 (Doc. 15), the Commissioner responded on September 1, 2017 (Doc. 16), and Plaintiff replied on September 18, 2017 (Doc. 17).

         B. Relevant Medical Records

         Plaintiff's relevant medical records are summarized below.

         C. Relevant Hearing Testimony

         Plaintiff testified that she suffers from rheumatoid arthritis in her joints, hands, knees, hips, and feet. (Doc. 14-2, Tr. 48, 55, PAGEID #: 113, 120). She also testified that she had an EMG performed on her legs, back, and feet to investigate nerve damage. (Id., Tr. 48-49, PAGEID #: 113-14). She stated she is borderline diabetic, and that she “was heavy” before she “lost a lot of weight.” (Tr. 49, PAGEID #: 114). Plaintiff testified that she does not have much control over her hands, and she had surgery performed on both of her hands, as well as her elbow, within the last three years. (Id.). She stated that while the surgery helped her hands, it did not help her elbow. (Id., Tr. 50, PAGEID #: 115). She experiences “chronic pain daily.” (Id., Tr. 55, PAGEID #: 120).

         Plaintiff can pick up and carry a soda bottle, but is unable to open one; she needs two hands to carry a gallon of milk. (Id., Tr. 50, PAGEID #: 115). Standing and walking is problematic, but she can walk a little over a block before she becomes short of breath. (Id., Tr. 51, PAGEID #: 116). She experiences breathing problems, and uses a “puffer” once or twice a week. (Id.). Plaintiff can stay seated for a half hour at most and spends most of her day in bed. (Id., Tr. 52, PAGEID #: 117). She can focus on one task for about twenty minutes before she needs to move around. (Id., Tr. 54, PAGEID #: 119). Plaintiff testified that her pain prevents her from finishing household chores. (Id., Tr. 55, PAGEID #: 120).

         The Vocational Expert (the “VE”) testified, inter alia, that an individual of Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience limited to only frequent handling, fingering, and feeling bilaterally; lifting and carrying ten pounds frequently; sitting 45 minutes at a time for six of eight hours; and standing and walking for 30 minutes at a time for three of eight hours would be limited to sedentary unskilled work. (Id., Tr. 57-58, PAGEID #: 122-23).

         D. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2016. (Doc. 14-2, Tr. 27, PAGEID #: 92). The ALJ also found that Plaintiff engaged in substantial gainful activity in 2012, when Plaintiff reported $12, 481 in earnings, but that there has been a continuous 12-month period during which Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity. (Id., Tr. 29, PAGEID #: 94). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's severe impairments consisted of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, none of which alone or in combination met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. (Id., Tr. 29-31, PAGEID #: 94-96). In terms of residual functional capacity (“RFC”), the ALJ found that plaintiff is able “to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except: lift/carry 10 pounds occasionally and frequently; sit ...

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