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Castellon v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 31, 2018

ERIC W. CASTELLON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Black, J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KAREN L. LITKOVITZ, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Eric W. Castellon 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 his application 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. 16), and plaintiffs reply memorandum (Doc. 19).

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI in January 2011, alleging disability since July 1, 2007 due to a combination of physical and mental impairments, including lumbar and cervical disc disease, degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder, seizure disorder, hepatitis C, depression, anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), and substance abuse disorder. The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff, through counsel, requested and was afforded a hearing before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Gregory Kenyon on May 23, 2013. On August 8, 2013, ALJ Kenyon issued a decision denying plaintiffs application.[1] Plaintiffs request for review was granted, and the Appeals Council remanded the case for consideration of new evidence submitted into the record since ALJ Kenyon's decision. The Appeals Council remanded the case with instructions to obtain additional evidence as available and warranted, to obtain evidence from a medical expert to clarify the nature and severity of plaintiff s impairments, to give further consideration to plaintiffs maximum residual functional capacity level, and to obtain additional input from a vocational expert. (Tr. 202-05).

         On remand, additional treatment records were submitted into evidence. Plaintiff was sent for a consultative medical examination in March 2015. Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") appeared and testified at a new hearing before ALJ Kevin J. Detherage on November 15, 2015. However, the ALJ did not obtain evidence from a medical expert to clarify the nature and severity of plaintiff s impairments as ordered by the Appeals Council. ALJ Detherage issued a written decision denying plaintiffs application on January 21, 2016. Plaintiffs request for review by the Appeals Council was denied, making the decision of ALJ Detherage 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.

Robbers 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

         ALJ Detherage 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, 2012.
2. The [plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 1, 2007, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
3. The [plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: lumbar and cervical disc disease, degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder, seizure disorder, hepatitis C, depression, anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse 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 [ALJ] finds that the [plaintiff] had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) which is unskilled, except that he can only occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs, and can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The [plaintiff] should avoid exposure to hazards such as heights or machinery with moving parts, and should avoid concentrated exposure to dust, fumes, gases, odors, or poorly ventilated areas. He can frequently reach, including overhead, with the right upper extremity. The [plaintiff] can perform no production rate pace work and can tolerate only occasional changes in a routine work place setting. He should have no more than occasional contact with coworkers, supervisors, or the general public and can perform no commercial driving. The [plaintiff] is likely to be absent from work one day per month.
6. The [plaintiff] is unable to perform any of his past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).[2]
7. The [plaintiff] was born ... [in]... 1970 and was 36 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the alleged disability onset date. The [plaintiff] subsequently changed age category to a younger ...

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