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Walther v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

February 20, 2018


          Barrett, J.



         Plaintiff Brittany Walther filed this Social Security appeal in order to challenge the Defendant's findings that she is not disabled. See 42 U.S.C. §405(g). Proceeding through counsel, Plaintiff presents four claim of error, both of which the Defendant disputes. For the reasons explained below, I conclude that the ALJ's finding of non-disability should be AFFIRMED, because it is supported by substantial evidence in the administrative record.

         I. Summary of Administrative Record

         On March 11, 2013, Plaintiff filed application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) alleging a disability onset date of September 30, 1999, due to mental and physical impairments. (Tr. 155-61). After Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration, she requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge. (“ALJ”). On July 31, 2015, ALJ Gregory Kenyon held an evidentiary hearing at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel. The ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, Plaintiff's mother and an impartial vocational expert. On July 31, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 13-22). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the denial of her application for benefits.

         Plaintiff was 18 years old on date of her alleged onset date of disability. (Tr. 20). She graduated from high school attending special education classes. She has no past relevant work. (Tr. 23, 190). Plaintiff alleges disability due to undifferentiated connective tissue disease; Raynaud's disease; muscle weakness; chronic pain; mild scoliosis; migraines with aura and hypermobility arthralgia.

         Based upon the record and testimony presented at the hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “Raynaud's syndrome; attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder; depression; and an anxiety disorder.” (Tr. 15). The ALJ concluded that none of Plaintiff's impairments alone or in combination met or medically equaled a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subp. P, Appendix 1. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff retains the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work with the following limitations:

(1) no concentrated exposure to extreme cold; (2) limited to performing unskilled, simple, repetitive tasks; (3) occasional contact with co-workers, supervisors, and the public; (4) no fast-paced production work or jobs involving strict production quotas; and (5) limited to performing jobs in a relatively static work environment in which there is very little, if any, changes in the job duties or work routine from one day to the next.

(Tr. 17). Based upon the record as a whole including testimony from the vocational expert, and given Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ concluded that other jobs exist in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform including such jobs as industrial cleaner, warehouse worker, and hand packager. (Tr. 21). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is not under disability, as defined in the Social Security Regulations, and is not entitled to DIB. Id.

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Therefore, the ALJ's decision stands as the Defendant's final determination. On appeal to this Court, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by: 1) failing to properly evaluate the opinions of Plaintiff's treating sources, Drs. Mina and Smith; 2) improperly formulating Plaintiff's mental RFC; 3) improperly formulating Plaintiff's physical RFC; and 4) failing to find that Plaintiff's undifferentiated connective tissue disease (UCTD) was a severe impairment. Upon close analysis, I conclude that the ALJ's decision should be affirmed.

         II. Analysis

         A. Judicial Standard of Review

         To be eligible for SSI or DIB a claimant must be under a “disability” within the definition of the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. §§423(a), (d), 1382c(a). The definition of the term “disability” is essentially the same for both DIB and SSI. See Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 469-70 (1986). 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, 476 U.S. at 469-70 (1986).

         When a 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 ...

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