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Campbell v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

June 25, 2019

DORENE CAMPBELL, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          WILLIAM H. BAUGHMAN, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Introduction

          Before me[1] is an action by Dorene Campbell under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income.[2] The ALJ's no disability finding is affirmed in part and reversed and remanded for further administrative proceedings in part.

         Issues Presented

          This case presents the following issues for review:

• The ALJ gave the opinion of physician's assistant Christine Stehouwer great weight.[3] He did not adopt the limitations opined by Ms. Stehouwer regarding use of the upper left extremity in Campbell's residual functional capacity (“RFC”).[4] Does substantial evidence support the ALJ's finding regarding Campbell's upper left extremity limitations?
• The ALJ found at Step Two that Campbell's depression was not a severe impairment.[5] Two state agency reviewing psychologists gave opinions consistent with this finding.[6] Is this Step Two finding supported by substantial evidence?

         Analysis

          The Sixth Circuit in Buxton v. Halter reemphasized the standard of review applicable to decisions of the ALJs in disability cases:

Congress has provided for federal court review of Social Security administrative decisions. However, the scope of review is limited under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g): “The findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive. . . .” In other words, on review of the Commissioner's decision that claimant is not totally disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, the only issue reviewable by this court is whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is “‘more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'”
The findings of the Commissioner are not subject to reversal merely because there exists in the record substantial evidence to support a different conclusion. This is so because there is a “zone of choice” within which the Commissioner can act, without the fear of court interference.[7]

         Viewed in the context of a jury trial, all that is necessary to affirm is that reasonable minds could reach different conclusions on the evidence. If such is the case, the Commissioner survives “a directed verdict” and wins.[8] The court may not disturb the Commissioner's findings, even if the preponderance of the evidence favors the claimant.[9]

         I will review the findings of the ALJ at issue here consistent with that deferential standard.

         A. RFC findings

          The ALJ gave the opinion of Christine Stehouwer, a treating physician's assistant, great weight. The ALJ observed, however, that “the overall evidence supports that the claimant retained the ability to perform at the light exertional level with postural limitations and left manipulative/reaching.”[10] This effectively constitutes a rejection of Ms. Stehouwer's opinion that Campbell could rarely reach, push/pull, and perform fine and gross manipulation.[11] The RFC finding provides for occasional reaching, handling, and fingering with the left upper extremity.[12]

         The ALJ's discussion of Ms. Stehouwer's opinion is as follows, raised in the context of discounting the opinion ...


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