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Jordan-Smith v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 7, 2019

STEPHANIE R. JORDAN-SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Vascura, Magistrate Judge

          OPINION & ORDER

          ALGENON L. MARBLEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on the Magistrate Judge's February 1, 2019, Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 20), which recommended that Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (ECF No. 14) be OVERRULED and that the Commissioner's decision be AFFIRMED. This Court hereby ADOPTS the Report and Recommendation in its entirety based on an independent consideration of the analysis therein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, Stephanie R. Jordan-Smith, filed applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income on September 13, 2013, alleging a disability onset on March 1, 2012. (R. at 15). After Plaintiff's applications were initially denied on May 14, 2014, and denied again on October 31, 3014, Plaintiff sought a hearing. Id. Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) at a hearing on January 6, 2017. Id. In addition, a vocational expert (“VE”) appeared and testified at the hearing. Id.

         The ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled under the meaning of the Social Security Act. (R. at 35). In the decision denying Plaintiff benefits, the ALJ followed the required five-step sequential analysis process for disability benefits claims. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). At step one, the ALJ found the Plaintiff had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since March 1, 2012. (R. at 18). At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff suffered from severe impairments of “idiopathic intracranial hypertension; migraine headaches; nuclear sclerosis of the eyes; allergic rhinitis; RC tear; morbid obesity; an adjustment disorder with mixed depression and anxiety; and borderline intellectual functioning.” Id. Further, the ALJ found Plaintiff had non-severe impairments of obstructive sleep apnea and gastroesophageal reflux disease. Id.

         At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments described in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. at 18-19). At step four, the ALJ set forth Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and stated Plaintiff had “. . .the residual functional capacity to perform light work. . ..” (R. at 22). In light of the RFC, the ALJ found Plaintiff's allegations regarding her symptoms and limitations were not generally supported by substantial evidence. (R. at 31). Coupled with the VE's testimony, the ALJ decided even though Plaintiff is unable to perform her past work, she can execute jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, pursuant to step five. (R. at 33-34). Therefore, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not “disabled” under the term's meaning in the Social Security Act. (R. at 35).

         Plaintiff alleges in her Statement of Errors that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ erred in his credibility analysis, and the ALJ improperly relied upon the VE's testimony at step five because it was based on a hypothetical question that was incomplete and inaccurate. (ECF No. 14).

         On February 1, 2019, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation recommending that this Court overrule Plaintiff's Statement of Errors and affirm the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. (ECF No. 20). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. at 1). Plaintiff then objected to the Magistrate Judge's finding that the ALJ's credibility analysis is supported by substantial evidence. (ECF No. 21).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Upon objection to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, this Court must “make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). This de novo review, in turn, requires the Court to “determine whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence to support the ALJ's decision” and to “determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal criteria.” Inman v. Astrue, 920 F.Supp.2d 861, 863 (S.D. Ohio 2013). Substantial evidence means relevant evidence that “a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Ealy v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 594 F.3d 504, 512 (6th Cir. 2010) (quotation omitted). Substantial evidence constitutes “more than a mere scintilla, but only so much as would be required to prevent judgment as a matter of law against the Commissioner if this case were being tried to a jury.” Inman, 920 F.Supp.2d at 863 (citing Foster v. Bowen, 853 F.2d 483, 486 (6th Cir. 1988)).

         III. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         A. Credibility Determination

         Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge's finding that the ALJ's credibility analysis is supported by substantial evidence. (ECF No. 21). The Social Security Rulings (“SSR”) organize decisions relating to Social Security Administration programs. SSR 96-7p governs the standard in evaluation of symptoms in disability claims. More specifically, SSR 96-7p guides assessment of an individual's statements. Under SSR 96-7p, an ALJ must evaluate the overall credibility of a plaintiff's statements to determine credibility. SSR 96-7p, 1996 WL 374186 (July 2, 1996). But, SSR 16-3p supersedes 96-7p, and requires an ALJ to evaluate the intensity and persistence of symptoms to determine the extent that those symptoms limit a plaintiff's ability to perform work-related activities. SSR 16-3p, 2017 WL 5180304 (Oct. 25, 2017). SSR 16-3p's purpose is to clarify the rules regarding subjective symptom evaluation, not to substantially change them. Brothers v. Berryhill, No. 5:16-cv-01942, 2017 WL 2912535, at *10 (N.D. Ohio June 22, 2017). This provision allows for an evaluation of the consistency of a plaintiff's statements as ...


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