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Seaman v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 5, 2019

DUSTIN E. SEAMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Black, J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Karen L. Litkovitz, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Dustin Seaman brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI"). This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs Statement of Errors (Doc. 9), the Commissioner's response in opposition (Doc. 15), and plaintiffs reply memorandum (Doc. 16).

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed his applications for DIB and SSI in July 2014, alleging disability since August 31, 2011 due to severe scoliosis, left hemiparesis, brain damage, limb length discrepancy, panic disorder, brief psychosis, depression, Attention Deficit Disorder ("ADD"), and visual transfer disorder. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff, through counsel, requested and was granted a de novo hearing before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Catherine Ma. Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") appeared and testified at the ALJ video conference hearing on May 12, 2017. On June 22, 2017, ALJ Ma issued a decision denying plaintiffs DIB and SSI applications. Plaintiffs request for review by the Appeals Council was denied, making the decision of ALJ Ma the final decision of the Commissioner.

         II. Analysis

         A. Legal Framework for Disability Determinations

         To qualify for disability benefits, 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. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) (DIB), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (SSI). 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. §§ 423(d)(2), 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 determinable 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 impairments) 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.

Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 582 F.3d 647, 652 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.152O(a)(4)(i)-(v), 404.152O(b)-(g)). The claimant has the burden of proof at the first four steps of the sequential evaluation process. Id.; Wilson v. Comm'r of 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. Rabbers, 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] meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2013.
2. The [plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 31, 2011, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.)
3. The [plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: cerebral palsy, affective disorder, and anxiety (20 CFR ...

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