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Campbell v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 12, 2018




         Plaintiff Sean R. Campbell filed this Social Security appeal in order to challenge the Defendant's denial of his disability claim. See 42 U.S.C. §405(g). Proceeding through counsel, Plaintiff presents five claims of error. For the reasons explained below, I conclude that the ALJ's finding of non-disability is supported by substantial evidence and should be AFFIRMED.

         I. Summary of Administrative Record

         First in December 2010, and later in January 2012, Plaintiff filed two applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Both of those applications were denied initially, and Plaintiff did not further appeal beyond the respective July 1, 2011 and May 22, 2012 denials of reconsideration. (Tr. 20; Tr. 110). Instead, on August 17, 2013, Plaintiff filed new applications for DIB and for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), alleging disability primarily due to low back and left shoulder problems beginning on September 5, 2009. (Tr. 267-274).

         In addition to his back and shoulder issues, Plaintiff complained of umbilical hernia, [unspecified] hernia, bad feet, bad knees, ADHD, depression and paranoia. (Tr. 260). After his claims were again denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested an evidentiary hearing, which was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on October 29, 2015. Through counsel, [1] Plaintiff and a vocational expert appeared and gave testimony. (Tr. 38-83). After determining that Plaintiff had presented new and material evidence pertaining to the same time period, the ALJ did not apply the doctrine of administrative res judicata concerning the prior two denials. (Tr. 20). Nevertheless, on March 28, 2016, the ALJ issued a new written decision that again determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 20-33). The Appeals Council denied further review, leaving the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final determination. Plaintiff filed this appeal to obtain additional judicial review.

         Plaintiff was just 25 years old on the date of his alleged disability in 2009, and remained in the younger individual age category through the date of the ALJ's decision. He has a high school education and past relevant work as a dishwasher, but has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 5, 2009. (Tr. 22). His date last insured (“DLI”) for purposes of his DIB application, was September 30, 2014.[2]

         The record reflects that Plaintiff lives in a third floor apartment with his fiancé.[3]He is able to do household chores (laundry, cooking, sweeping, and mopping, see Tr. 269) and helps care for their two cats. He drives two or three times a week to attend appointments for himself or his fiancé, or to go shopping. He also attends a church program every Friday night. (Tr. 49-50). He watches TV and plays video games, and socializes on the phone and by going to a park to “ha[n]g out.” (Tr. 268, 271; see also generally Tr. 29-30, 65, 314).

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffers from severe impairments of “lumbar degenerative disc disease; left shoulder degenerative joint disease, obesity, bipolar depressive disorder, and anxiety. (Tr. 23). The ALJ found other mild impairments, including cervical degenerative disc disease, bilateral knee arthritis, an umbilical hernia and history of ADHD, but determined that none of those impairments caused more than minimal limitations on Plaintiff's ability to work. (Id.) The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff does not meet or equal any listing in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, such that Plaintiff is entitled to a presumption of disability. (Id.) Plaintiff does not dispute any of those findings.

         What the Plaintiff does dispute is the ALJ's finding that he retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a limited range of light work with the following restrictions:

[H]e should never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; he can occasionally climb ramps or stairs, stoop and crawl; and he is limited to occasional overhead reaching with the left upper extremity. The claimant is further limited to routine tasks with no fast-paced work, no strict production quotas, and minimal or infrequent changes in the work setting; and he is limited to frequent interaction with the public, coworkers and supervisors.

(Tr. 26).

         Both parties agree that Plaintiff cannot perform any of his past work as a dishwasher. However, based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff would be able to perform a substantial number of jobs in the national economy, including the representative unskilled occupations of housekeeping cleaner, sales attendant, or clerical assistant. (Tr. 32). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability. (Id.)

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to adequately support the RFC as determined; (2) failing to adopt the 2011 opinion of an examining consulting physician that Plaintiff could not sit/stand or walk more than 4 hours per day; (3) failing to give adequate weight to the opinions of consulting psychologists; (4) determining that Plaintiff was not fully credible; and (5) failing to include additional limitations in the hypothetical question posed to the vocational expert. I find no reversible error.

         II. Analysis

         A. Judicial Standard of Review

         To be eligible for benefits, a claimant must be under a “disability.” See 42 U.S.C. §1382c(a). 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 v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 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).

         Whether considering an application for supplemental security income or 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. Com'r 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 is entitled to disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512(a). A claimant seeking benefits must present sufficient evidence to show that, during the relevant time period, he suffered an impairment, or combination of impairments, expected to last at least twelve months, that left him unable to perform any job. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         B. Plaintiff's Claims

         1. Substantial Evidence ...

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