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Barber v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 12, 2019

TONYA SUE BARBER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          BARRETT, J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KAREN L. LITKOVITZ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Tonya Sue Barber brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying plaintiffs application for supplemental security income (SSI). This matter is before the Court on the Commissioner's memorandum in support of a remand for further proceedings (Doc. 18) and plaintiffs memorandum seeking a reversal for an immediate award of benefits (Doc. 19).

         I. Procedural Background of Administrative Proceedings

         Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI on December 20, 2013, alleging an onset date of disability of December 20, 2013. (Tr. 22). Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Peter Beekman held a video hearing on June 21, 2017, and issued a decision denying plaintiffs claim for benefits on July 26, 2017. (Tr. 22-38). After the Appeals Council denied review, plaintiff appealed ALJ Beekman's decision to this Court on June 1, 2018. (Doc. 1).

         While plaintiffs SSI appeal was pending in this Court, she was awarded disabled widow's benefits on a subsequently filed application in 2018. (Doc. 15 at 5-6). Plaintiff was given a disability onset date of July 27, 2017-the day after ALJ Beekman's decision denying SSI benefits in the present case. (Id. at 2, 5-6).

         In response to plaintiffs statement of errors (Doc. 9), the Commissioner filed a unilateral motion for voluntary remand under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and requested a remand to the Appeals Council for further review and issuance of a new decision by, as appropriate, the Appeals Council or an ALJ. (Doc, 14). The Commissioner concedes "that the ALJ committed errors in evaluating the evidence and as such, a remand for further evaluation of the evidence and a new decision is warranted" on plaintiffs SSI claim. (Doc. 14 at 1). Because plaintiff did not want the favorable decision on her widow's claim to be disturbed on a remand ordered by this Court on her SSI claim, plaintiff opposed the Commissioner's motion to remand her SSI claim. (Id.).

         On June 4, 2019, the Court denied the Commissioner's motion to remand this matter and ordered the Commissioner to file a brief addressing the issue of whether this matter should be reversed and remanded for further administrative proceedings or reversed for an immediate award of benefits. (Doc. 17). Because the Commissioner concedes that the ALJ's decision cannot be defended, the only issue in this appeal is whether this matter should be reversed and remanded for rehearing or reversed for an immediate award of benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89, 100 (1991). Accordingly, the Court ordered the parties to file supplemental briefs on this remaining issue. This matter is now ripe for resolution.

         II. 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). 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. § 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 impairment(s) 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 ...

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