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Shoemaker v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

May 15, 2018

LARRY SHOEMAKER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Dlott, J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Stephanie K. Bowman United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Larry Shoemaker filed this Social Security appeal in order to challenge the Defendant's findings that he is not disabled. See 42 U.S.C. §405(g). Proceeding through counsel, Plaintiff presents three claims of error, all 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

         In July 2013, Plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income alleging a disability onset date of June 15, 2010 due to mental and physical impairments. (Tr. 213-22). Plaintiff's insured status for DIB expired on December 31, 2012[1]. (Tr. 224). After Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration, he requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge. (“ALJ”). On February 4, 2016, ALJ Kathleen Laub held an evidentiary hearing, by video, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel. The ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert. On March 25, 2016, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's applications in a written decision. (Tr. 17-33). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the denial of his application for benefits.

         Plaintiff was born December 15, 1963 and was 46 years old at the time of the alleged onset date of disability. (Tr. 31). He testified that he graduated from high school and completed a few college classes. (Tr. 45-46). Plaintiff alleges disability primarily due to mental impairments including memory problems and anxiety. (Tr. 52). He has past relevant work as a teacher aide, insurance clerk, delivery driver and vending machine coin collector. (Tr. 68).

         Based upon the record and testimony presented at the hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “unspecified macular degeneration, bilateral; age-related nuclear cataract, bilateral; other vitreous opacities, bilateral; dry eyes syndrome of the bilateral lacrinal glands; chronic giant papillary conjunctivitis, left eye; asthma, mild right carpal tunnel syndrome and chronic actinic otitis of both ears.” (Tr. 18). 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:

He is limited to occasionally lifting and/or or carrying twenty pounds with the right dominant upper extremity and frequently lifting and/or carrying ten pounds with the right dominant upper extremity. He is limited to frequent use of the right dominate upper extremity for handling and fingering; he is limited to occasional use of peripheral vision and is able to read large print and see large objects but cannot read small print or drive a motor vehicle. He can tolerate occasional exposure to pulmonary irritants such as dust, odors, fumes, gases or poor ventilation; he can tolerate occasional exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights and moving mechanical machinery. His mental impairments limit him to only occasional interaction with the general public, supervisors and coworkers.

(Tr. 24). 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 although Plaintiff is unable to perform his past relevant work, Plaintiff could perform other work in the national economy including such jobs as fastener, machine operator, cleaner and assembly press operator. (Tr. 32). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is not under disability, as defined in the Social Security Regulations, and is not entitled to DIB and/or SSI. 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) improperly evaluating the evidence at step-two in the sequential evaluation; (2) improperly evaluating Plaintiff's credibility; and (3) failing to include all of plaintiff's impairments in his hypothetical questions to the vocational expert. Plaintiff has also filed a motion for a sentence remand due to newly discovered evidence. (Doc. 10). Upon close analysis, I conclude that the ALJ's decision should be affirmed and Plaintiff's motion for remand is not well-taken and should be denied.

         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 decision is supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court must affirm.

Id. (citations omitted).

         In considering an application for disability benefits, the Social Security Agency is guided by the following sequential benefits analysis: at Step 1, the Commissioner asks if the claimant is still performing substantial gainful activity; at Step 2, the Commissioner determines if one or more of the claimant's impairments are “severe;” at Step 3, the Commissioner analyzes whether the claimant's impairments, singly or in combination, meet or equal a Listing in the Listing of Impairments; at Step 4, the Commissioner determines whether or not the claimant can still perform his or her past relevant work; and finally, at Step 5, if it is established that claimant can no longer perform his or her past relevant work, the burden of proof shifts to the agency to determine whether a significant number of other jobs which the claimant can perform exist in the national economy. See Combs v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 643 (6th Cir. 2006); 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520, 416.920.

         A plaintiff bears the ultimate burden to prove by sufficient evidence that he or she is entitled to disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512(a). Thus, a plaintiff seeking benefits must present sufficient evidence to show that, during the relevant time period, he or she suffered an impairment, or combination of impairments, expected to last at least twelve months, ...


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