United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Stephanie K. Bowman United States Magistrate Judge
Maria Ann Cox filed this second Social Security appeal in
order to challenge the Defendant's findings that she is
not disabled. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Proceeding through counsel, Plaintiff presents two claims of
error, both of which the Defendant disputes. For the reasons
explained below, I conclude that the ALJ's finding of
non-disability should be REVERSED and REMANDED for an
immediate award of benefits because it is not supported by
substantial evidence in the administrative record.
Summary of Administrative Record
instant appeal is Plaintiff's second judicial appeal of
an adverse disability decision.
January 2012, Plaintiff filed for Social Security Disability
Insurance (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income alleging a
disability onset date of September 30, 2003 (Tr. 210-15). The
Ohio Division of Disability denied Plaintiff's disability
claims in May 2012 and again in February 2013 (Tr. 28). After
Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and upon
reconsideration, she requested a hearing de novo
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). On
March 27, 2014, ALJ Susan Giuffre held a video hearing at
which Plaintiff appeared with counsel. The ALJ heard
testimony from Plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert.
(Tr. 28). At this hearing, Plaintiff amended her alleged
onset date to January 23, 2012, effectively withdrawing her
SSD claim, and therefore only seeking Supplemental Security
Income for a period beginning January 23, 2012 (Tr. 28). In
May 2014, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not under a
disability as defined by the Social Security Act (Tr. 28-47).
In September 2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
Request for Review (Tr. 1), and in July 2016 the Appeals
Council vacated the ALJ's decision pursuant to a remand
order by the District Court (Tr. 705).
again appeared and testified at a hearing on February 14,
2017, where an impartial vocational expert also appeared and
testified (Tr. 705). ALJ Thuy-Anh Nguyen concluded in May
2017 that Plaintiff has not been under a disability within
the meaning of the Social Security Act since her alleged
onset date of January 23, 2012 (Tr. 706). In April 2018, the
Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's decision (Tr. 775-780).
Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the second denial of
her application for benefits.
was 39-years-old on the date of the second ALJ's decision
(Tr. 210-215) and held a high school diploma (Tr. 792).
Plaintiff testified that she lives alone, takes her
medication, socializes with a neighbor, and spends time
reading with a friend's daughter (Tr. 710).
Plaintiff's relevant past work experience included work
as a laundry attendant (unskilled work ordinarily performed
at medium exertion level but actually performed at light
exertional level by Plaintiff), as a warehouse worker
(unskilled work typically performed at medium exertional
level but actually performed at light exertional level by
Plaintiff), and as a fast food worker (unskilled work
typically and actually performed at light exertional level)
upon the record and testimony presented at the hearing, the
second ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: “degenerative disc disease, asthma,
hypertension, type II diabetes, obesity, bipolar disorder,
and panic disorder.” (Tr. 708). Plaintiff reported at
the hearing that she was not compliant with several medical
treatments, including not taking her pain medications, not
taking insulin, and continuing smoking (Tr. 713). The ALJ
concluded that none of Plaintiff's impairments alone or
in combination met or medically equaled a listed impairment
in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subp. P, Appendix 1 (Tr. 708). The ALJ
determined that Plaintiff retains the following residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work
with the following limitations:
[T]he claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch, and crawl. The claimant can occasionally climb ramps
or stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The
claimant is limited to jobs on flat, level ground. The
claimant is limited to frequent exposure to extreme cold,
extreme heat, and vibration. The claimant is limited to
occasional exposure to pulmonary irritants, such as fumes,
odors, dust, gases, and poor ventilation. The claimant is
limited to work in a static, defined as very little changes
in work setting, without the need for fast pace or strict
production quotas. The claimant is limited to no interaction
with the general public and occasional interaction with
coworkers and supervisors.
(Tr. 710). Based upon the record as a whole including
testimony from the vocational expert, and given
Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the
ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is unable to perform her past
relevant work. Nonetheless, there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that she can
perform, including such jobs as routing clerk, a marking
clerk, and inspector. Even if Plaintiff was further limited
in time sitting and standing, Plaintiff could still perform
the requirements of a mail clerk (Tr. 719). Accordingly, the
ALJ determined that Plaintiff is not under disability, as
defined in the Social Security Regulations, and is not
entitled to DIB. Id.
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review.
Therefore, the ALJ's decision stands as the
Defendant's final determination. On appeal to this Court,
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by: 1) failing to give
controlling weight to Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist
when determining Plaintiff's psychiatric RFC; 2) failing
to support Plaintiff's physical RFC with substantial
evidence. Upon close analysis, I conclude that the ALJ erred
in evaluating the opinions of Plaintiff's treating