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Thomas v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

April 30, 2018

ASHLEY THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ENTRY

          Sharon L. Ovington United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Ashley Thomas applied for period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits, and Supplemental Security Income on January 23, 2014. She asserted that she has been under a benefits-qualifying disability since December 16, 2013. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Elizabeth A. Motta concluded that she was not eligible for benefits because she is not under a “disability” as defined in the Social Security Act.

         Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's non-disability decision in the present case. The parties “agree that this case was improperly decided by the [ALJ]” and that a remand to the Social Security Administration is warranted. (Doc. #12, PageID #1336). They disagree, however, on whether the remand should be for an award of benefits in Plaintiff's favor or whether further administrative proceedings are needed. The case is before the Court upon the Commissioner's Motion to Remand (Doc. #12), Plaintiff's Response (Doc. #13), Commissioner's Reply (Doc. #14), Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (Doc. #9), and the administrative record (Doc. #6).

         II. Standard of Review

         Under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court has authority to affirm, modify, or reverse the Commissioner's decision “with or without remanding the cause for rehearing.” Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89, 99 (1991). Consequently, a remand under sentence four may result in the need for further proceedings or an immediate award of benefits. E.g., Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 410 (6th Cir. 2009); Felisky v. Bowen, 35 F.3d 1027, 1041 (6th Cir. 1994). “Generally, benefits may be awarded immediately ‘only if all essential factual issues have been resolved and the record adequately establishes a plaintiff's entitlement to benefits.'” Kalmbach v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 409 Fed.Appx. 852, 865 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting, in part, Faucher v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 17 F.3d 171, 176 (6th Cir. 1994)). A judicial award of benefits is proper “only where the proof of disability is strong, and opposing evidence is lacking in substance, so that remand would merely involve the presentation of cumulative evidence, or where the proof of disability is overwhelming.” Id. (citing Faucher, 17 F.3d at 176; Felisky, 35 F.3d at 1041; Mowery v. Heckler, 771 F.2d 966, 973 (6th Cir.1985)).

         III. Discussion

         The Commissioner seeks remand of this case for further administrative proceedings and a new decision. According to the Commissioner, “Upon remand, the Commissioner will instruct the Appeals Council to vacate all findings in the Administrative Law Judge's decision. The Commissioner will then conduct further proceedings, offer Plaintiff a supplemental hearing and develop the administrative record as necessary to determine whether Plaintiff is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, and then issue a new decision.” (Doc. #12, PageID #1336).

         Plaintiff disagrees. She asserts that her impairments meet or equal Listing 12.05B and/or 12.05C (Intellectual Disability).

         To meet the listing for intellectual disability, [1] an individual's impairment must satisfy the diagnostic description in the introductory paragraph and any of the four sets of criteria. 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, § 12.00A. Listing 12.05 provides:

Intellectual disability refers to significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning with deficits in adaptive functioning initially manifested during the developmental period; i.e., the evidence demonstrates or supports onset of the impairment before age 22.
The required level of severity for this disorder is met when the requirements in A, B, C, or D are satisfied.
. . .
B. A valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 59 or less; OR C. A valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 60 through 70 and a physical or other mental impairment imposing an additional and ...

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