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Buckland v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 12, 2019

DARLA M. BUCKLAND, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Barrett, J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Karen L. Litkovitz United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Darla M. Buckland 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 her applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI"). This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs statement of errors (Doc. 11), the Commissioner's response in opposition (Doc. 12), and plaintiffs reply memorandum. (Doc. 15).

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed her applications for DIB and SSI in March 2015, alleging disability since January 31, 2011 due to major depression, anxiety, panic attacks, trouble focusing, concussion injury/head trauma, attention deficit disorder ("ADD"), arthritis, ankle, foot, and leg problems, right wrist problems, and sleep problems. These applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff, through counsel, requested and was afforded a hearing before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Mark Hockensmith on May 30, 2017. Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") appeared and testified at the ALJ hearing. On November 14, 2017, ALJ Hockensmith issued a decision denying plaintiffs DIB and SSI applications. Plaintiffs request for review by the Appeals Council was denied, making the decision of ALJ Hockensmith 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), 404.1520(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. Rubbers, 582 F.3d at 652; Harmon v. Apfel, 168 F.3d 289, 291 (6th Cir. 1999).

         B. The Administrative Law Judge's Findings

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI in January 2008. These applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. A hearing was held in August 2010 before ALJ Amelia Lombardo. On December 15, 2010, plaintiffs applications were denied by ALJ Lombardo. (Tr. 64-75). Plaintiff again filed applications for benefits on February 21, 2011 and May 19, 2011. (Tr. 15). On January 19, 2013, ALJ Mary Withum issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled.[1]

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI again in February 2013, and her applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff asked for a hearing before an ALJ, but she and her attorney later asked that the case be dismissed without a hearing and acknowledged that the April 29, 2013 reconsideration determination would remain in effect. (Tr. 84).

         In rendering his decision on plaintiffs SSI and DIB applications filed in March 2015, ALJ Hockensmith recognized that he was bound under the principles of administrative res judicata to preclude consideration of the issue of disability before April 29, 2013. Thus, ALJ Hockensmith determined that the period under consideration began on April 30, 2013, the day after the reconsideration determination. ALJ Hockensmith also determined that plaintiff produced "new and material evidence documenting a significant change" in her condition since ALJ Withunr s decision. Thus, ALJ Hockensmith determined that ALJ Withum's ...


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