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Napier v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 28, 2019

TAMMY NAPIER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Dlott, J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KAREN L. LITKOVITZ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Tammy Napier brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (''Commissioner") denying her application for supplemental security income ("SSI"). This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs statement of errors and amended statement of errors (Docs. 16, 25), the Commissioner's response in opposition (Doc. 21), and plaintiffs reply and amended reply memoranda (Docs. 22, 24).

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed an application for SSI in February 2012, alleging disability since December 31, 2007, due to cervical spine disorder, gastrointestinal disorder, affective disorder, an anxiety-related disorder, and substance abuse in remission.[1] The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff, through counsel, requested and was afforded a hearing before administrative law judge (:ALJ") Christopher Dillon on December 13, 2013. Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") appeared and testified at the ALJ hearing. On January 16, 2014, ALJ Dillon issued a decision denying plaintiffs application. Plaintiffs request for review by the Appeals Council was denied.

         Plaintiff then filed an action in the United States District Court. See Napier v. Commissioner of Social Security, 3:15-cv-154 (S.D. Ohio). This Court remanded plaintiffs claim pursuant to Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for a new hearing and decision. (Tr. 2350-58).

         The Appeals Council subsequently vacated and remanded ALJ Dillon's decision. (Tr. 2362). Plaintiff and a vocational expert appeared and testified at the subsequent administrative hearing before ALJ Mark Hockensmith on June 21, 2017. (Doc. 14 at Tr. 3337-60). On September 19, 2017, ALJ Hockensmith issued a decision denying plaintiffs SSI application and determining that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Tr. 2241-66). Plaintiffs request for review by the Appeals Council was denied, making the decision of ALJ Hockensmith the final administrative decision of the Commissioner.

         II. Analysis A. Legal Framework for Disability Determinations

         To qualify for SSI, a claimant must suffer from a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The impairment must render the claimant unable to engage in the work previously performed or in any other substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         Regulations promulgated by the Commissioner establish a five-step sequential evaluation process for disability determinations:

1). If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, the claimant is not disabled.
2). If the claimant does not have a severe medically determinate physical or mental impairment - i.e., an impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities - the claimant is not disabled.
3). If the claimant has a severe impairment(s) that meets or equals one of the listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations and meets the duration requirement, the claimant is disabled.
4). If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him or her from doing his or her past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled.
5). If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is disabled.

Rubbers v. Comm's of Soc. Sec, 582 F.3d 647, 652 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v), 416.920 (b)-(g)). The claimant has the burden of proof at the first four steps of the sequential evaluation process. Id.; Wilson v. Comm 'r o/Soc Sec, 378 F.3d 541, 548 (6th Cir. 2004). Once the claimant establishes a prima facie case by showing an inability to perform the relevant previous employment, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other substantial gainful employment and that such employment exists in the national economy. Robbers, 582 F.3d at 652; Harmon v. Apfel, 168 F.3d 289, 291 (6th Cir. 1999).

         B. The Administrative Law Judge's Findings

         The ALJ applied the sequential evaluation process and made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

1. The [plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 8, 2012, the date of the relevant application for supplemental security income (20 CFR 416.971, etseq.).
2. The [plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: cervical spine degenerative disc disease, lumbago, gastrointestinal disorder, migraine headaches, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder with features of post- traumatic stress disorder, [and] substance use disorder in (possible) remission (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
3. The [plaintiff] does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
4. The [plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined at 20 CFR 416.967(b) subject to the following additional limitations: (1) the opportunity to change position every 30-45 minutes for two or three minutes at a time while remaining at the work station; (2) no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; (3) no more than frequent climbing of ramps or stairs; (4) no more than frequent stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling; (5) no more than occasional overhead reaching bilaterally; (6) no work at unprotected heights or with dangerous machinery; (7) ready access to restroom facilities during scheduled breaks; (8) no exposure to loud noise (defined as anything louder than a normal office setting); (9) limited to simple, routine tasks; (10) limited to a static work environment with few changes in routine; (11) no fast-paced work or strict production quotas; (12) no direct dealing with the public; (13) no more than occasional interaction with co-workers or supervisors.
5. The [plaintiff] has no past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).
6. The [plaintiff] was born [in] .. . 1965. From the date of the application for supplemental security income until she attained age 50 [in] . . . 2015, the [plaintiff] was classified as a "younger individual" for Social Security purposes. Since attaining age 50 [in] . . . 2015, the [plaintiff] is classified as an individual who is "closely approaching advanced age" (50-54 years old) for Social Security purposes (20 CFR 416.963).
7. The [plaintiff] has an 8th or 9th -grade or "limited" education as defined for Social Security purpose (20 CFR 416.964).
8. The [plaintiff] does not have "transferable" work skills within the meaning of the Social Security Act (20 CFR 416.968).
9. Considering the [plaintiff] 's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the [plaintiff] can perform (20 CFR 416.969 and 416.969(a)).[2]
10. The [plaintiff] was not "disabled," as defined in the Social Security Act, since February 8, 2012, the date the application for supplemental security income was ...

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