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Rivera v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

July 31, 2018

RAMON A . RIVERA, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM H. BAUGHMAN, JR. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Introduction

         Before me[1] is an action for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying the application of the plaintiff, Ramon A. Rivera, for disability insurance benefits. The Commissioner has answered[2] and filed the transcript of the administrative record.[3] Under my initial[4] and procedural[5] orders, the parties have briefed their positions[6] and filed supplemental charts[7] and the fact sheet.[8] They have participated in a telephonic oral argument.[9]

         Facts

         A. Background facts and decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)

         Rivera, who was 60 years old at the time of the administrative hearing, [10] graduated high school[11] and is married.[12] His past relevant employment history includes work as an automobile assembler, shuttle bus driver, parking valet, and union representative.[13]

         The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), whose decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, found that Rivera had severe impairments consisting of: disorder of the spine; shoulder impairment; postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (“POTS”); vertigo; and obesity.[14] The ALJ made the following finding regarding Rivera's residual functional capacity:

After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) with additional limitations. The claimant can lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 frequently; stand/walk 6 out of 8; frequently push/pull and constantly foot pedal; frequently use a ramp or stairs, never a ladder, rope or scaffold. He can frequently balance, can constantly stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant can reach including overhead frequently. He can constantly handle, finger, and feel; no visual or communication deficits. The claimant must avoid entirely dangerous machinery and unprotected heights.[15]

         Given that residual functional capacity, the ALJ found Rivera capable of his past relevant work as a parking valet, union representative, and shuttle bus driver and, therefore, not under a disability.[16] The ALJ made an alternate finding at Step Five that there jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Rivera could perform.[17]

         B. Issues on judicial review

         Rivera asks for reversal of the Commissioner's decision on the ground that it does not have the support of substantial evidence in the administrative record. Specifically, Rivera presents the following issues for judicial review:

• The ALJ's RFC determination lacks the support of substantial evidence because the ALJ failed to include limitations in the RFC to account for the severe impairments of disorder of the spine and vertigo.
• The ALJ's credibility determination lacks the support of substantial evidence.
• The ALJ's Step Four and Five determinations lack the support of substantial evidence because plaintiff cannot return to his past relevant work without significant adjustment and learning new skills.[18]

         The Court finds that the ALJ's finding of no disability is not supported by substantial evidence and, therefore, must be reversed and remanded for further administrative proceedings consistent with this order.

         Analysis

         A. Applicable legal principles

         1. Substantial evidence

         The Sixth Circuit in Buxton v. Halter reemphasized the standard of review applicable to decisions of the ALJs in disability cases:

Congress has provided for federal court review of Social Security administrative decisions. However, the scope of review is limited under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g): “The findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive. . . .” In other words, on review of the Commissioner's decision that claimant is not totally disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, the only issue reviewable by this court is whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is “‘more ...

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