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Porter v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 23, 2019

RONALD E. PORTER, Plaintiff,

          Barrett, J.



         Plaintiff Ronald E. Porter filed this Social Security appeal in order to challenge the Defendant's findings that he is not disabled. See 42 U.S.C. §405(g). Proceeding through counsel, Plaintiff presents five claims of error, all of which the Defendant disputes. Plaintiff has also filed a motion for a sentence six remand which Defendant has opposed. For the reasons explained below, I conclude that the ALJ's finding of non-disability should be REVERSED and REMANDED because it is not supported by substantial evidence in the administrative record.

         I. Summary of Administrative Record

         In December 2014, Plaintiff filed for Supplemental Security Income alleging a disability onset date of January 27, 2012. (Tr. 55). After Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration, he requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). On January 25, 2017, ALJ Renita Bivins held a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel. The ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert. (Tr. 55). At this hearing, Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to January 22, 2015, explaining that there was no medical evidence prior to the application. However, Plaintiff is eligible for benefits beginning at the protective filing date. After discussing the proposed amendment with Plaintiff's counsel, the ALJ considered the application beginning at the December 2014 protective filing date, avoiding the possibility of an adjudicated five-week period. (Tr. 55). In October 2017, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined by the Social Security Act. (Tr. 55-67). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-3). Plaintiff filed an appeal to this Court on April 24, 2018, seeking judicial review of the denial of his application for benefits.

         Plaintiff was 47-years-old on the date the application was filed, and has at least a high school diploma. (Tr. 66). Plaintiff lives in a house with his wife and son, and receives visits from his family. (Tr. 58-59). Plaintiff's relevant past work experience included work as a route driver helper (unskilled work ordinarily performed at medium exertion level) and as a day laborer (unskilled work typically performed at heavy exertional level but actually performed at sedentary level by Plaintiff). (Tr. 66).

         Based upon the record and testimony presented at the hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the the following severe impairments: “spinal disorder, polyneuropathy, affective disorder, and anxiety.” (Tr. 57). Plaintiff reports no problems dressing himself or showering, and can prepare simple meals. However, Plaintiff does not perform other duties like grocery shopping since he lost his license due to a DUI conviction ten years prior. (Tr. 58). 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. Id. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff retains the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work with the following limitations:

[The claimant] is further limited to lifting and carrying up to 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently; standing and/or walking for 6 hours per 8-hour workday; sitting for 6 hours per 8-hour workday, with normal breaks; frequently climbing ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequently pushing, pulling, or reaching in all directions with the left upper extremity; performing unskilled work with no strict time for production requirements and with only a few changes in routine; working in a nonpublic setting with only superficial, intermittent interaction with public, coworkers, and supervisors; and performing work that permits him to be off task 4% of the work period.

(Tr. 60). 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 his past relevant work. (Tr. 66). Nonetheless, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he can perform, including such jobs as sweeper/cleaner, hand packager, and lab equipment cleaner. (Tr. 67). 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 argues that the ALJ erred by: 1) committing material inconsistencies within the record; 2) incorrectly weighing the opinions of doctors and psychologists; 3) denying Plaintiff's subjective complaints based on testimony outside the record; 4) abusing her discretion in refusing Plaintiff's requests to update his medical records; and 5) incorrectly determining Plaintiff's vocational abilities. Upon close analysis, I conclude that the ALJ erred in evaluating the findings of Plaintiff's treating physician, thereby requiring 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 ...

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