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Mosley v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 31, 2018

JUDY M. MOSLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          BLACK J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KAREN L. LITKOVITZ, M. J.

         Plaintiff Judy M. Mosley 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. 8), the Commissioner's response in opposition (Doc. 11), and plaintiffs reply (Doc. 12).

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed her application for DIB in January 2013 and her application for SSI in February 2015 alleging disability since September 2, 2012, due to depression, anxiety, degenerative disc disease in the neck and lower back, and cognitive issues from prior strokes and an aneurism. After initial administrative denials of her claim, plaintiff was afforded a de novo hearing before administrative law judge (ALJ) Deanna L. Sokolski on July 20, 2015. On November 27, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiffs DIB and SSI applications. Plaintiffs 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), 1382c(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), 1382c(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 impairment(s) 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.

Rabbers 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. Rabbers, 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 December 31, 2017.
2. The [plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 9, 2012, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The [plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease and (sic) the cervical and lumbar spines, right leg claudication, migraines, moyamoya disease, history of cerebral vascular accidents, depression and mood disorder, anxiety disorder, and cognitive disorder (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 the [plaintiff] can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The [plaintiff] is able to frequently climb ramps and stairs, and occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crouch (sic). She is able to frequently push and pull, and frequently finger with the left nondominant upper extremity. The [plaintiff] can frequently push and pull with (sic) the operate foot controls with the bilateral lower extremities. She must avoid all exposure to workplace hazards such as unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery, and must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme temperatures. The [plaintiff) can perform simple routine repetitive tasks performed in a work environment free of fast paced production requirements, and involving only simple work-related decisions with few, if any, workplace changes, and superficial interaction with supervisors, coworkers, and the public as part of the job duties.
6. The [plaintiff] is unable to perform past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).[1]
7. The [plaintiff] was born [in] ... 1963 and was 49 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date. The [plaintiff] subsequently changed age category to closely approaching advanced age (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The [plaintiff] has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational rules as a framework supports a finding that the [plaintiff] is "not disabled" whether or not the [plaintiff] has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404 Subpart P. Appendix 2).
10. Considering the [plaintiff]'s age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the [plaintiff] can perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416969 and 416.969(a)).[2]
11. The [plaintiff] has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from September 9, 2012, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).

(Tr. 17-27).

         C. Judicial Standard of Review

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's determination is limited in scope by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and involves a twofold inquiry: (1) whether the findings of the ALJ are supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. See Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir. 2009); see also Bowen v. Comm > of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 745-46 (6th Cir. 2007).

         The Commissioner's findings must stand if they are supported by "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citing Consolidated Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). Substantial evidence consists of "more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance-----" Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007). In deciding whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, the Court considers the record as a whole. Hephner v. Mathews, 574 F.2d 359 (6th Cir. 1978).

         The Court must also determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards in the disability determination. Even if substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusion that the plaintiff is not disabled, "a decision of the Commissioner will not be upheld where the SSA fails to follow its own regulations and where that error prejudices a claimant on the merits or deprives the claimant of a substantial right." Rubbers, 582 F.3d at 651 (quoting Bowen, 478 F.3d at 746). See also Wilson, 378 F.3d at 545-46 (reversal required even though ALJ's decision was otherwise supported by substantial evidence where ALJ failed to give good reasons for not giving weight to treating physician's opinion, thereby violating the agency's own regulations).

         D. ...


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