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Schumpert v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

May 7, 2018

SANDRA M. SCHUMPERT, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ENTRY: (1) REVERSING THE ALJ'S NON-DISABILITY FINDING AS UNSUPPORTED BY SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE; (2) REMANDING THIS CASE TO THE COMMISSIONER UNDER THE FOURTH SENTENCE OF 42 U.S.C. § 405(G) FOR AN IMMEDIATE AWARD OF BENEFITS; AND (3) TERMINATING THIS CASE ON THE COURT'S DOCKE

          Michael J. Newman, United States Magistrate Judge.

         This Social Security disability benefits appeal is before the undersigned for disposition based upon the parties' consent. Doc. 10. At issue is whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in a decision issued on January 19, 2016 by finding Plaintiff not “disabled” and therefore unentitled to Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). This case is before the Court on Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (doc. 13), the Commissioner's memorandum in opposition (doc. 12), Plaintiff's reply (doc. 13), the administrative record (docs. 6, 7), [1] and the record as a whole.

         I.

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed for DIB alleging a disability onset date of February 19, 2007. PageID 305-07. Plaintiff claims disability as a result of a number of alleged impairments including, inter alia, cervical spine degenerative disc disease, bilateral osteoarthritis of the knees, lumbar spine degenerative disc disease, irritable bowel syndrome, residuals of right shoulder injury and corrective surgery, affective (depressive) disorder, and anxiety. PageID 1980.

         After an initial denial of her application, Plaintiff received a hearing before ALJ Janice M. Bruning on April 20, 2010. PageID 123-41. ALJ Bruning issued a decision on September 7, 2010 finding Plaintiff not disabled. PageID 148-57. Specifically, ALJ Bruning found at Step Five that, based upon Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a reduced range of sedentary work, [2] “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform[.]” PageID 153-57. The Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review, vacated ALJ Bruning's non-disability finding, and remanded the case for further proceedings. PageID 165-69.

         On remand from the Appeals Council, Plaintiff received a hearing before ALJ Amelia G. Lombardo on June 14, 2013. PageID 102-22. ALJ Lombardo issued a decision on July 12, 2013 finding Plaintiff not disabled. PageID 71-90. Specifically, ALJ Lombardo found at Step Five that, based upon Plaintiff's RFC to perform a reduced range of light work, [3] “there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] could have performed[.]” PageID 82-90.

         Thereafter, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review of ALJ Lombardo's decision, making her non-disability finding the final administrative decision of the Commissioner. PageID 53-55. See Casey v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993). On appeal to this Court, Judge Rose granted the parties' joint stipulation to remand to the Commissioner, thereby reversing ALJ Lombardo's non-disability finding and remanding the case to the Commissioner for additional administrative proceedings. PageID 2113.

         On remand from this Court, Plaintiff received a hearing before ALJ Eric Anschuetz on November 17, 2015. PageID 2055-2104. ALJ Anschuetz issued a decision on January 19, 2016 finding Plaintiff not disabled. PageID 1976-99. Specifically, ALJ Anschuetz found at Step Five that, based upon Plaintiff's RFC to perform a reduced range of light work, “there [are] jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [he can] perform[.]” PageID 1990-99.

         Thereafter, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making ALJ Anschuetz's non-disability finding the final administrative decision of the Commissioner. PageID 1965-67. See Casey, 987 F.2d at 1233. Plaintiff then filed this timely appeal challenging the non-disability finding by ALJ Anschuetz (hereafter, “ALJ”). 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 1976-99), Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (doc. 13) the Commissioner's memorandum in opposition (doc. 14), and Plaintiff's reply (doc. 15). 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 ...


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