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Russell v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

January 17, 2018

REBECCA L. RUSSELL, 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 eligible for just a closed period of Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), i.e., February 1, 2013 through October 1, 2014, and not disabled thereafter. This case is before the Court upon Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (doc. 8), the Commissioner's memorandum in opposition (doc. 9), Plaintiff's reply (doc. 10), the administrative record (doc. 6), [2] and the record as a whole.

         I.

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB asserting disability as of February 1, 2013 as a result of a number of impairments including, inter alia, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with residuals from surgery. PageID 264-72.

         After an initial denial of her application, Plaintiff received a hearing before ALJ George D. McHugh on June 11, 2015. PageID 68-111. Plaintiff was found disabled under the Social Security Act beginning February 1, 2013. PageID 30-33, 43-50, 52-53. The ALJ found, however, that Plaintiff's condition significantly improved thereafter, and she was no longer disabled as of October 2, 2014. PageID 52-53. As a result, the ALJ awarded DIB for the closed period of February 1, 2013 through October 1, 2014. PageID 53. 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] from October 2, 2014 onward, “there were jobs in that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] could have performed[.]” PageID 53-60.

         Thereafter, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's DIB award for the closed period in question (and non-disability finding as of October 2, 2014) 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 43-60), Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (doc. 8), the Commissioner's memorandum in opposition (doc. 9), and Plaintiff's reply (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 error prejudices a claimant on the merits or deprives the claimant of a substantial right.” Bowen, 478 F.3d at 746.

         B. ...


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