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Thompson v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

May 21, 2018

SABRINA THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Black, J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KAREN L. LITKOVITZ, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Sabrina Thompson, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying plaintiffs applications for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI). This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs Statement of Errors (Doc.12), the Commissioner's response in opposition (Doc. 17), and plaintiffs reply memorandum. (Doc. 19).

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed her applications for DIB and SSI in June 2011, alleging disability since May 24, 2011, due to high blood pressure, knee problems, a torn meniscus, depression, carpal tunnel syndrome, and back problems. After initial administrative denials of her claim, plaintiff was afforded a de novo hearing before administrative law judge (ALJ) Kristen King on March 21, 2013. On May 3, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiffs DIB and SSI applications.

         On July 3, 2013, plaintiff filed a request for review with the Appeals Council, which was granted. On November 7, 2014, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's hearing decision and remanded this case to the ALJ for resolution of further issues, including reconsideration of plaintiffs maximum residual functional capacity, evaluation of plaintiff s treating and non-treating sources, and identification and resolution of any conflicts between the occupational evidence provided by the vocational expert and the information in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT).

         On May 15, 2015, the ALJ held a supplemental hearing, at which plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. A vocational expert (VE) also testified. On November 19, 2015, the ALJ again found that plaintiff was not disabled. On March 6, 2017, plaintiff's request for review by the Appeals Council was denied, making the decision of the ALJ the final administrative decision of the Commissioner.

         II. Analysis

         A. Legal Framework for Disability Determinations

         To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must suffer from a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) (DIB), l382c(a)(3)(A) (SSI). The impairment must render the claimant unable to engage in the work previously performed or in any other substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2), l382c(a)(3)(B).

         Regulations promulgated by the Commissioner establish a five-step sequential evaluation process for disability determinations:

1) If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, the claimant is not disabled.
2) If the claimant does not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment - i.e., an impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities - the claimant is not disabled.
3) If the claimant has a severe impairments) that meets or equals one of the listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations and meets the duration requirement, the claimant is disabled.
4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him or her from doing his or her past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled.
5) If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is disabled.

Rubbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 582 F.3d 647, 652 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), 404.1520(b)-(g)). The claimant has the burden of proof at the first four steps of the sequential evaluation process. Id.; Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 378 F.3d 541, 548 (6th Cir. 2004). Once the claimant establishes a prima facie case by showing an inability to perform the relevant previous employment, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other substantial gainful employment and that such employment exists in the national economy. Rubbers, 582 F.3d at 652; Harmon v. Apfel, 168 F.3d 289, 291 (6th Cir. 1999).

         B. The Administrative Law Judge's Findings

         The ALJ applied the sequential evaluation process and made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

1. The [plaintiff] meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2016.
2. The [plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 24, 2011, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The [plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, degenerative joint disease, degenerative disc disease, obstructive sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, degenerative changes of the knee, personality disorder, and depression (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The [plaintiff] does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the [plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that she is further limited to never operating foot controls with the lower left extremity; occasionally balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling or climbing ramps and stairs; never climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally reaching overhead with the bilateral upper extremities; frequent handling, fingering, or feeling with the upper extremities; avoiding all use of dangerous machinery and all exposure to unprotected heights; performing simple, routine tasks; performing goal-oriented work, but no constant production rate pace work such as an automated assembly line; handling ...

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