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Music v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 17, 2019

TRAVIS W. MUSIC, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          William H. Baughman, Jr. United States Magistrate Judge.

         Introduction

         Before me[1] is an action by Travis W. Music under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for disability insurance benefits.[2] Because the ALJ's no disability finding lacks the support of substantial evidence, this matter is reversed and remanded for further administrative proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         Issues Presented

         This case presents two issues for decision:

• The ALJ gave little, partial, and some weight to various opinions given by treating psychologist Dr. Matthew Ziccardi in three reports over a period of more than two years. Did the ALJ give good reasons for the weight assigned to these opinions and does substantial evidence support the limitations incorporated into the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) finding?
• Does substantial evidence support the finding at Step Five that Music can perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy?

         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.[3]

         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.[4] The court may not disturb the Commissioner's findings, even if the preponderance of the evidence favors the claimant.[5]

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

         Music grounds his argument on the ALJ's finding at Step 3 that he has a “marked limitation in concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace.”[6] The ALJ explained:

Here, the record supports the claimant has worsening cognitive functioning and that his processing speed, memory, and expressive language skills are all reduced. Further, his IQ tests reflected a reduction in processing speed and memory functioning. Additionally, the claimant testified that he has difficulty with focusing for long periods. For these reasons, the claimant's ability to function independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis is seriously limited in this area.[7]

         Dr. Ziccardi opined that Music was markedly limited in his ability to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods and to complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms.[8] He further opined that Music will be off task 20% or more of the workday because of inability to focus, and his ability to maintain sustained attention will be markedly impacted because of mental fatigue.[9] The ALJ gave these opinions some weight but stated that these limitations are accommodated by the limitations incorporated into the RFC finding.[10] The RFC limitations do not address the durational component of Dr. ...


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