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Crawford v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 7, 2019


          Vascura, Magistrate Judge

          OPINION & ORDER


         This matter comes before the Court on the Magistrate Judge's December 14, 2018, 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 the independent consideration of the analysis therein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Talisa T. Crawford filed her application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) on October 14, 2014. Plaintiff's application was initially denied on January 8, 2015 and was subsequently denied upon reconsideration on March 30, 2015. (R. at 324, 354). On April 23, 2015, Plaintiff submitted a request for a hearing by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (R. at 356). Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified on April 12, 2017. (R. at 67). In addition to Plaintiff's testimony, the ALJ considered the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”) and a medical expert (“ME”) at this hearing. (R. at 67).

         The ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not “disabled” within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (R. at 44). In the decision denying Plaintiff benefits, the ALJ followed the required five-step sequential analysis for disability-benefits claims. (R. at 49-58). See C.F.R. § 416.920(a).[1] At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 12, 2014. (R. at 49). At the second step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was severely impaired by obesity; leg length discrepancy; degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine; status-post lumbar microdiscectomy; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”); mild carpal tunnel syndrome of the right upper extremity (“CTS”); history of Chiari malformation with placement of a small plate; post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”); borderline intellectual functioning (“BIF”); and bipolar disorder (20 CFR 416.920(c)). (R. at 49). At the third step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equals the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. at 50). At the fourth step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform certain sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.967(a) and 416.967(a). (R. at 52). At the fifth, and final step, the ALJ found that there were “jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy” that Plaintiff was capable of performing. (R. at 58). As such, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has not been “under a disability” within the meaning of the term “disabled” in the Social Security Act. (R. at 59).

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision on March 17, 2018. (R. at 1). Plaintiff then timely filed this action for review, alleging in her Statement of Errors that the ALJ erred in failing to properly evaluate whether Listing 1.04 was met, or that the ALJ failed to properly determine whether Plaintiff was medically equal to Listing 1.04.

         On February 22nd 2019, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation recommending that this Court overrule Plaintiff's Statement of Errors and affirm the Commissioner of Social Security's decision. (ECF No. 18). Plaintiff subsequently objected to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation with regard to the Magistrate Judge's finding that the ALJ did not err under his evaluation of whether Plaintiff met or equaled Listing 1.04 (ECF No. 19).


         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)).


         Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge's finding at step three. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff failed to establish every element of Listing 1.04(A) was not supported by substantial evidence. (ECF No. 9). Step three of the five step sequential evaluation of evidence for disability claims requires an ALJ to determine whether the claimant's severe impairments, alone or in combination, meet or medically equal the criteria of an impairment set forth in the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Subpart P, Appendix 1. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). To satisfy Listing 1.04, Plaintiff must have an impairment as follows:

1.04 Disorders of the spine (e.g., herniated nucleus pulposus, spinal arachnoiditis, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis, vertebral fracture), resulting in compromise of a nerve root (including the cauda equina) or the spinal cord. With:
A. Evidence of nerve root compression characterized by neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, limitation of motion of the spine, motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle weakness or muscle weakness [sic]) accompanied by sensory or reflex loss and, if there is involvement of the ...

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