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Biglow v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 15, 2019


          Black, J.



         Plaintiff Crystal Biglow filed this Social Security appeal in order to challenge the Defendant's findings that she is not disabled. Without counsel, Plaintiff presents a handwritten list of corrections, but identifies no reversible errors. For the reasons explained below, I conclude that the ALJ's finding of non-disability should be AFFIRMED, because it is supported by substantial evidence in the administrative record.

         I. Summary of Administrative Record

         On April 14, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. (Tr. 24). In both applications, Plaintiff alleges disability beginning January 15, 2009. Plaintiff's claims were denied initially on October 8, 2015. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ) on December 21, 2015. (Tr. 24). Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing held on October 10, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio. Carl W. Hartung, an impartial vocational expert, testified at the hearing as well. Plaintiff was informed of her right to representation, but chose to appear and testify without an attorney or other representative. Plaintiff's husband, Larry Biglow, was also present and testified on Plaintiff's behalf. On February 1, 2018, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's subsequent request for review. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the denial of her application for benefits.

         Plaintiff was 39 years old when she submitted the applications. (Tr. 34). Plaintiff has a high school education, graduated from a trade school, and has only unskilled past relevant work. (Tr. 34, 53). Plaintiff testified that she lives in a trailer with her husband and is responsible for caring for a dog and four cats. (Tr. 50).

         Based upon the record and testimony presented at the hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with Grade 1 spondylolisthesis; degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine; lupus; morbid obesity; osteoarthritis of the bilateral knees; trochanteric bursitis of the left hip; and bilateral foot spurs.” (Tr. 27). The ALJ concluded that none of Plaintiff's impairments alone or in combination met or medically equaled a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subp. P, Appendix 1. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff retains the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with the following limitations:

[T]he claimant can stand and walk 4-hours in an 8-hour workday; can occasionally use foot controls with the bilateral lower extremities; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; never climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds; occasionally balance; occasionally stoop; occasionally kneel; occasionally crouch; never crawl; have only occasional exposure to extreme cold; and never work at unprotected heights.

(Tr. 30).

         Based upon the record as a whole including testimony from the vocational expert, and given Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is unable to perform her past relevant work. Nonetheless, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she can perform, including such jobs as addresser, document preparer, and table worker/spotter. Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is not under disability, as defined in the Social Security Regulations, and is not entitled to DIB. Id.

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Therefore, the ALJ's decision stands as the Defendant's final determination. On appeal to this Court, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, has submitted a handwritten list of complaints. Construed liberally, the undersigned finds that Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred by: (1) improperly formulating her physical RFC; (2) improperly evaluating her mental impairments, and 3) failing to find her complaints of pain credible. Upon close analysis, I conclude that none of the asserted errors require reversal or remand.

         II. Analysis

         A. Judicial Standard of Review

         To be eligible for SSI or DIB a claimant must be under a “disability” within the definition of the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. §§423(a), (d), 1382c(a). The definition of the term “disability” is essentially the same for both DIB and SSI. See Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 469-70 (1986). Narrowed to its statutory meaning, a “disability” includes only physical or mental impairments that are both “medically determinable” and severe enough to prevent the applicant from (1) performing his or her past job and (2) engaging in “substantial gainful activity” that is available in the regional or national economies. See Bowen, 476 U.S. at 469-70 (1986).

         When a court is asked to review the Commissioner's denial of benefits, the court's first inquiry is to determine whether the ALJ's non-disability finding is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 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) (additional citation and internal quotation omitted). In conducting this review, the court should consider the record as a whole. Hephner v. Mathews, 574 F.2d 359, 362 (6th Cir. 1978). If substantial evidence supports the ALJ's denial of benefits, then that finding must be affirmed, even if substantial evidence also exists in the record to support a finding of disability. Felisky v. Bowen, 35 F.3d 1027, 1035 (6th Cir. 1994). As the Sixth Circuit has explained:

The Secretary's findings are not subject to reversal merely because substantial evidence exists in the record to support a different conclusion . . . . The substantial evidence standard presupposes that there is a ‘zone of choice' within which the Secretary may proceed without interference from the courts. If the Secretary's decision is supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court must affirm.

Id. (citations omitted).

         In considering an application for disability benefits, the Social Security Agency is guided by the following sequential benefits analysis: at Step 1, the Commissioner asks if the claimant is still performing substantial gainful activity; at Step 2, the Commissioner determines if one or more of the claimant's impairments are “severe;” at Step 3, the Commissioner analyzes whether the claimant's impairments, singly or in combination, meet or equal a Listing in the Listing of Impairments; at Step 4, the Commissioner determines whether or not the claimant can still perform his or her past relevant work; and finally, at Step 5, if it is established that claimant can no longer perform his or her past relevant work, the burden of proof shifts to the agency to determine whether a significant number of other jobs which the claimant can perform exist in the national economy. See Combs v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 643 (6th Cir. 2006); 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520, 416.920.

         A plaintiff bears the ultimate burden to prove by sufficient evidence that he or she is entitled to disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512(a). Thus, a plaintiff seeking benefits must present sufficient evidence to show that, during the relevant time period, he or she suffered impairment, or combination of impairments, expected to last at least twelve months, that left him or her unable to perform any job in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         B. The ALJ's decision is supported by ...

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