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Moore v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 13, 2019

MELISSA K. MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Walter H. Rice, District Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION [1] 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

         This is 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”).[2] 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), [3] and the record as a whole.

         I.

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff 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 46.

         After 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.[4] 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.

         Thereafter, 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).

         B. Evidence of Record

         The 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.

         II.

         A. Standard of Review

         The 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).

         Substantial 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.

         The 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.

         B.Disability” Defined

         To be 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.

         Administrative 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 ...


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