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Taylor v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 9, 2019

SUE ELLEN TAYLOR, 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 Sue Ellen Taylor under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her applications for supplemental security income and 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 the following issues for decision:

• The ALJ found that Taylor's severe impairments did not meet or equal requirements of Listing Section 12.03C.[3] Does substantial evidence support that finding?
• The state agency reviewing psychologists opined that Taylor's work-related limitations should include a low stress environment.[4] The ALJ did not refer to this limitation in his decision, include it in Taylor's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), or explain why he excluded it. He nevertheless gave these opinions considerable, but not significant, weight. Does substantial evidence support the RFC absent the low stress environment limitation?

         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.[5]

         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.[6] The court may not disturb the Commissioner's findings, even if the preponderance of the evidence favors the claimant.[7]

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

         A. Step Three challenge

         If a claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments that meets one of the listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations, the claimant is disabled.[8]Because the listings describe impairments that the Social Security Administration considers “severe enough to prevent and individual from doing any gainful activity, regardless of his or her age, education, or work experience, ”[9] the Commissioner will deem a claimant who meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment conclusively disabled.[10] Each listing sets out “the objective medical and other findings needed to satisfy the criteria of that listing, ”[11] and the claimant bears the burden of proving[12] that she has satisfied all of the criteria of a listing in order to “meet the listing.”[13]

         Even if a claimant cannot demonstrate disability by meeting the listing, she may be disabled if her impairment is the medical equivalent of a listing.[14] Medical equivalence means that the impairment is “at least as equal in severity and duration to the criteria of any listed impairment.”[15] The claimant seeking a finding that an impairment is equivalent to a listing must present “medical findings” that ...


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