United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division, Dayton
SUSAN M. HALE, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
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 FOR THE CLOSED PERIOD OF
OCTOBER 17, 2006 THROUGH JUNE 2, 2015; AND (3) TERMINATING
THIS CASE ON THE COURT'S DOCKET
Michael J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge.
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” during
the closed period at issue and therefore unentitled to
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and/or
Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). This case is before the Court on
Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (doc. 11), the
Commissioner's memorandum in opposition (doc. 15),
Plaintiff's reply (doc. 16), the administrative record
(doc. 7),  and the record as a whole.
filed for DIB and SSI alleging a disability onset date of
October 17, 2006. PageID 1234. Plaintiff claims disability as
a result of a number of alleged impairments including,
inter alia, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar
spine, diabetes mellitus with nephropathy and neuropathy,
morbid obesity, depressive disorder, a personality disorder,
and borderline intellectual functioning. PageID 1829.
an initial denial of her application, Plaintiff received a
hearing before ALJ Maria Hodges on October 12, 2011. PageID
70-110. ALJ Hodges issued a written decision on October 26,
2011 finding Plaintiff not disabled. PageID 43-59. Plaintiff
appealed, and on September 26, 2014, this Court vacated the
non-disability finding and remanded her claim for further
proceedings. Hale v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No.
3:13-cv-2014, 2014 WL 7176476 (S.D. Ohio Sept. 26, 2014).
remand, Plaintiff received a second hearing on March 23, 2015
before ALJ Elizabeth Motta. PageID 1902-15. ALJ Motta issued
a written decision on July 31, 2015 finding Plaintiff not
disabled. PageID 1923-48. Plaintiff appealed for a second
time, and this Court again found reversible error in the
ALJ's non-disability finding. Hale v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 307 F.Supp.3d 785 (S.D. Ohio 2017).
Specifically, this Court remanded Plaintiff's claim to
the Commissioner for a reassessment of the opinions written
by Plaintiff's treating physicians. Id. at
received a third hearing, before ALJ Deborah F. Sanders, on
January 19, 2018. PageID 1869-99. ALJ Sanders issued a
written opinion on May 1, 2018, finding that Plaintiff became
disabled on June 3, 2015. PageID 1824-54. Prior to that date,
however, ALJ Sanders found at Step Five that, based on
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform a reduced range of light work,
“there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in
the national economy that [Plaintiff] could have
performed[.]” PageID 1829-51.
Sanders' non-disability decision for the closed period of
October 17, 2006 through June 2, 2015 became the final
administrative decision of the Commissioner after remand when
Plaintiff did not file any exceptions, and the Appeals
Council did not assume jurisdiction over Plaintiff's
claim. PageID 4246; 20 C.F.R. § 404.984(d). Plaintiff
then filed this timely appeal. Cook v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 480 F.3d 432, 435 (6th Cir. 2007). This May 1,
2018 opinion by ALJ Sanders (hereinafter “ALJ”)
is now before the Court for review.
Evidence of Record
evidence of record is adequately summarized in the ALJ's
decision (PageID 1824-54), Plaintiff's Statement of
Errors (doc. 11), 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.
Standard of Review
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).
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.
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.