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Sampson v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 26, 2019

JESSICA SAMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ENTRY: (1) REVERSING THE ALJ'S NON-DISABILITY FINDING AS UNSUPPORTED BY SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE; (2) REMANDING THIS CASE UNDER THE FOURTH SENTENCE OF 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) FOR AN IMMEDIATE AWARD OF BENEFITS; AND (3) TERMINATING THIS CASE ON THE COURT'S DOCKET

          Michael J. Newman, United States Magistrate Judge.

         This is a Social Security disability benefits appeal for which the parties have consented to entry of final judgment. At issue is whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in finding Plaintiff not “disabled” and therefore unentitled to Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). This case is before the Court on Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (doc. 13), the Commissioner's memorandum in opposition (doc. 15), Plaintiff's reply (doc. 16), the administrative record (doc. 9), [1] and the record as a whole.

         I.

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed for SSI on September 5, 2013 claiming disability as a result of a number of alleged impairments including, inter alia, diabetes mellitus with neuropathy, anxiety, post- traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), borderline intellectual functioning, and bipolar disorder. Tr. 1506-08.

         After an initial denial of her application, Plaintiff received a hearing before ALJ Mark Hockensmith on September 14, 2015. Tr 41-88. ALJ Hockensmith issued a written decision on September 25, 2015 finding Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 15-40. Plaintiff appealed the decision to this Court, and the Commissioner agreed that a remand was warranted. Tr. 1623. On June 19, 2017, this Court granted the parties' joint motion for a remand for further proceedings to re-evaluate the medical opinions of record. Tr. 1620; Sampson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 3:16-cv-513, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94158 (S.D. Ohio June 19, 2017).

         Plaintiff received a second hearing before ALJ Hockensmith on April 4, 2018. Tr. 1592-1618. The ALJ issued a written opinion on April 25, 2018 again finding Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 1503-38. Specifically, the ALJ found at Step Five that, based upon Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a reduced range of sedentary work, [2] “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform[.]” Tr. 1511-38.

         Thereafter, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, the ALJ's April 2018 non-disability finding the final administrative decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-3. 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). This April 25, 2018 non-disability finding is presently before the Court for review.

         B. Evidence of Record

         The evidence of record is adequately summarized in the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1503-38), Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (doc. 13), the Commissioner's memorandum in opposition (doc. 15), and Plaintiff's reply (doc. 16). 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) ...


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