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Evans v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 20, 2019

MARY M. EVANS, Plaintiff,

          Black, J.



         Plaintiff Mary M. Evans 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 application for supplemental security income ("SSI"). This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs statement of errors (Doc. 11), the Commissioner's response in opposition (Doc. 14), and plaintiffs reply (Doc. 15).

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed her application for SSI in December 2014 alleging disability since September 18, 2014, due to back pain with surgery, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, spinal cord stimulator implantation, broken right foot, bariatric bypass surgery, bipolar disorder, panic attacks, and Attention Deficit Disorder. The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff, through counsel, requested and was afforded a hearing before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Deborah F. Sanders on June 27, 2017. Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") appeared and testified at the ALJ hearing. On February 28, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiffs application. Plaintiffs request for review by the Appeals Council was denied, making the decision of the ALJ the final administrative decision of the Commissioner.

         II. Analysis

         A. Legal Framework for Disability Determinations

         To qualify for SSI, 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 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. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v), 416.920 (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. Rabbers, 582 F.3d at 652; Harmon v. Apfel, 168 F.3d 289, 291 (6th Cir. 1999).

         B. The Administrative Law Judge's Findings

         The ALJ applied the sequential evaluation process and made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

1. The [plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 30, 2014, the application date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq).
2. The [plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar, generalized anxiety disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cocaine dependence, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, morbid obesity, history of chronic left trigger thumb status post release procedure, coronary artery disease, hypertension, asthma, gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), depression, [and] cervical radiculopathy (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
3. The [plaintiff] does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, [the ALJ] find[s] that the [plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except be able to lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, occasional push/pull with right upper extremity, stand and/or walk up to 4 hours in 8 hour day with an option to sit after every 30 minutes of standing; sit up to 6 hours in 8 hour day, option to stand after 30-45 minutes of sitting while remaining on task; occasional foot controls but not on a continuous basis; would be able to frequently use hand controls; frequently climb ramp and stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequent balance; occasional stoop, kneel, crouch; never crawl; occasionally engage in overhead reaching; frequent gross and fine manipulation; never work at unprotected heights, around moving mechanical parts, and never operate a motor vehicle; would be able to carry out simple routine repetitive tasks but not at production rate pace; occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors, but no direct interaction with the public.
5. The [plaintiff] has no past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).
6. The [plaintiff] was born [in] ...1970 and was 44 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.963).
7. The [plaintiff] has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).
8. Transferability of job skills is not an issue because the [plaintiff] does not have past relevant work (20 CFR 416.968).
9. Considering the [plaintiff]'s age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the [plaintiff] can perform (20 CFR 416.969 and 416.969(a)).[1]
10. The [plaintiff] has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since December 30, 2014, the date the ...

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