United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division, Dayton
MELISSA K. MOORE, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
H. Rice, District Judge
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION  THAT: (1)
THE NON-DISABILITY FINDING AT ISSUE BE FOUND UNSUPPORTED BY
SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE, AND REVERSED; (2) THIS MATTER BE
REMANDED TO THE COMMISSIONER UNDER THE FOURTH SENTENCE OF 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) FOR PROCEEDINGS CONSISTENT WITH THIS
OPINION; AND (3) THIS CASE BE CLOSED
MICHAEL J. NEWMAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
a Social Security disability benefits appeal. At issue is
whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
erred in finding Plaintiff not “disabled” and
therefore unentitled to Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and/or Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). This case is before the Court on
Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (doc. 9), the
Commissioner's memorandum in opposition (doc. 12),
Plaintiff's reply (doc. 13), the administrative record
(doc. 7),  and the record as a whole.
filed for DIB and SSI alleging a disability onset date of
January 22, 2013. PageID 44. Plaintiff claims disability as a
result of a number of alleged impairments including,
inter alia, obesity, fibromyalgia, mild degenerative
joint disease of the bilateral knees, and migraines. PageID
an initial denial of her application, Plaintiff received a
hearing before ALJ Mark Hockensmith on July 6, 2017. PageID
115-48. The ALJ issued a written decision on November 22,
2017 finding Plaintiff not disabled. PageID 43-59.
Specifically, the ALJ found at Step Five that, between the
period of March 15, 2014 to November 30, 2015, Plaintiff had
the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform a reduced range of sedentary work. PageID 51. Due to
a bariatric bypass surgery and other changes in
Plaintiff's health, the ALJ determined that from December
1, 2015 through the date of the decision, Plaintiff had the
RFC to perform a different range of sedentary work. PageID
52. Ultimately, the ALJ found, at both functional levels of
sedentary work, that “there were jobs that exist[ed] in
significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff]
could perform[.]” PageID 52-59.
the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review, making the ALJ's non-disability finding the final
administrative decision of the Commissioner. PageID 32-35.
See Casey v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs.,
987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993). Plaintiff then filed
this timely appeal. Cook v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
480 F.3d 432, 435 (6th Cir. 2007).
Evidence of Record
evidence of record is adequately summarized in the ALJ's
decision (PageID 43-59), Plaintiff's Statement of Errors
(doc. 9), the Commissioner's memorandum in opposition
(doc. 12), and Plaintiff's reply (doc. 13). The
undersigned incorporates all of the foregoing and sets forth
the facts relevant to this appeal herein.
Standard of Review
Court's inquiry on a Social Security appeal is to
determine (1) whether the ALJ's non-disability finding is
supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the ALJ
employed the correct legal criteria. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742,
745-46 (6th Cir. 2007). In performing this review, the Court
must consider the record as a whole. Hephner v.
Mathews, 574 F.2d 359, 362 (6th Cir. 1978).
evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
When substantial evidence supports the ALJ's denial of
benefits, that finding must be affirmed, even if substantial
evidence also exists in the record upon which the ALJ could
have found Plaintiff disabled. Buxton v. Halter, 246
F.3d 762, 772 (6th Cir. 2001). Thus, the ALJ has a
“‘zone of choice' within which he [or she]
can act without the fear of court interference.”
Id. at 773.
second judicial inquiry -- reviewing the correctness of the
ALJ's legal analysis -- may result in reversal even if
the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence
in the record. Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. 2009). “[A] decision of the
Commissioner will not be upheld where the [Social Security
Administration] fails to follow its own regulations and where
that error prejudices a claimant on the merits or deprives
the claimant of a substantial right.” Bowen,
478 F.3d at 746.
eligible for disability benefits, a claimant must be under a
“disability” as defined by the Social Security
Act. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Narrowed to its statutory
meaning, a “disability” includes physical and/or
mental impairments that are both “medically
determinable” and severe enough to prevent a claimant
from (1) performing his or her past job and (2) engaging in
“substantial gainful activity” that is available
in the regional or national economies. Id.
regulations require a five-step sequential evaluation for
disability determinations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).
Although a dispositive finding at any step ends the ALJ's
review, see Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730