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Roden v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 13, 2019

DAWN M. RODEN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          DECISION 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 FURTHER PROCEEDINGS; AND (3) TERMINATING THIS CASE ON THE COURT'S DOCKET

          Michael J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge

         This is 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” and therefore unentitled to Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). This case is before the Court on Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (doc. 11), the Commissioner's memorandum in opposition (doc. 13), Plaintiff's reply (doc. 14), the administrative record (doc. 7), [1] and the record as a whole.

         I.

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed for DIB on February 10, 2016 alleging disability as a result of a number of impairments including, inter alia, posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), dysthymic disorder, a depressive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”)/attention deficit disorder (“ADD”), and an anxiety disorder. PageID 59.

         After an initial denial of her application, Plaintiff received a hearing before ALJ Michael F. Schmitz on October 27, 2017. PageID 74-107. The ALJ issued a written decision on December 22, 2017 finding Plaintiff not disabled. PageID 57-67. Specifically, the ALJ found at Step Five that, based upon Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work at all exertional levels but with certain non-exertional limitations, “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform[.]” PageID 61-67.

         Thereafter, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's non-disability finding the final administrative decision of the Commissioner. PageID 46-48. See Casey v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993). Plaintiff then filed this timely appeal. Cook v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 480 F.3d 432, 435 (6th Cir. 2007).

         B. Evidence of Record

         The evidence of record is adequately summarized in the ALJ's decision (PageID 57-67), Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (doc. 11), the Commissioner's memorandum in opposition (doc. 13), and Plaintiff's reply (doc. 14). The undersigned incorporates all of the foregoing and sets forth the facts relevant to this appeal herein.

         II.

         A. Standard of Review

         The 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).

         Substantial 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.

         The 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.

         B. “Disabilit ...


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