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Adkins v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 13, 2019

Craig Allen Adkins, Plaintiff
v.
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

          ORDER

          James G. Carr Sr. U.S. District Judge

         This is a Social Security case in which the plaintiff, Craig Adkins, successfully appealed from the Commissioner's decision denying his application for benefits. Adkins v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 2019 WL 1040943 (N.D. Ohio) (Carr, J.).

         Pending is Adkins's motion for attorney fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412. (Doc. 19). The Commissioner opposes. (Doc. 20).[1]

         For the reasons that follow, I grant the motion in part.

         Background

         I. The Disability Application and the ALJ's Decision

         On December 16, 2014, Adkins applied for benefits, alleging disability “due to severe anxiety and depression, lumbar ruptured discs with constant pain and sleep apnea.” (Doc. 9, PageID #171, 253-259). After a hearing, an administrative law judge (ALJ) rejected Adkins's application, finding that Adkins “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals” a listed impairment and that he has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work with limitations:

He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, never climb ladders and ropes or scaffolds, and can occasionally balance, stoop, but never kneel, crouch, and crawl. He is also limited to performing simple, routine, repetitive tasks, but not at a production rate pace, for example, no assembly line work. He is limited to making simple work-related decisions. He is limited to responding appropriately to occasional interaction with supervisors, coworkers, and the general public. Finally, he is limited to tolerating few changes in the work setting, defined as routine job duties performed in a stable, predictable work setting. Any necessary changes need to occur very infrequently, if at all, and be adequately and easily explained. He is to have a sit/stand option of: each 60 minutes the allowance to change position at the workstation for two minutes.

(Id., PageID #68, 71).

         The ALJ concluded that, within this RFC, Adkins can perform “jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy.” (Id., PageID #83).

         II. Adkins's Appeal

         Adkins appealed, arguing that the ALJ erred by 1) determining that Adkins's back condition did not meet Listing 1.04A and 2) failing to consider Adkins's functional limitations when crafting the RFC. (Doc. 10 at 8). As to his second objection, Adkins asserted that the “RFC finding . . . is founded on the incorrect legal standard and misstated facts” related to both his back condition and his mental health impairments. (Id. at 12-23).

         Magistrate Judge Ruiz rejected Adkins's arguments and recommended that I affirm the ALJ's decision. (Doc. 14).

         Adkins objected. His objections focused only on his back condition, that is, he asserted that the ALJ erred by failing to consider a January, 2015 MRI when making the listed impairment and RFC determinations. (Doc. 15).

         I overruled Adkins's objection as to the listed impairment finding but sustained his objection as to the RFC determination. Specifically, I held that the ALJ mischaracterized the record evidence regarding Adkins's back pain when she determined that “the ‘objective evidence' was ‘not consistent [with] the degree of severity [Adkins] alleged[.]'” Adkins, supra, 2019 WL 1040943 at *2 (quoting Doc. 9, PageID #72) (brackets in original). Rather, I explained, “[t]he January, 2015 MRI[, ]” which the ALJ never acknowledged, “appears to show that [Adkins's] degenerative disc disease had worsened, perhaps significantly, since his alleged onset date, in June, 2014.” Id. at *2 (internal citations omitted).

         Accordingly, I vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded with instructions to consider the January, 2015 MRI. Id.

         Discussion

         The Commissioner argues that 1) Adkins is not entitled to attorneys' fees under the EAJA because the Commissioner's position was substantially justified and 2) even if Adkins can recover attorneys' fees, the amount sought is unreasonable.

         I. ...


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