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Redmond v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 23, 2019

LINDA M. REDMOND, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Barrett, J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          STEPHANIE K. BOWMAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Linda M. Redmond filed this Social Security appeal in order to challenge the Defendant's findings that she is not disabled. See 42 U.S.C. §405(g). Proceeding through counsel, Plaintiff presents one claim of error, which the Defendant disputes. 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

         In July 2014, Plaintiff filed for Supplemental Security Income alleging a disability onset date of January 8, 2014. (Tr. 143). After Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration, she requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). On February 14, 2017, ALJ Thuy-Anh Nguyen held a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared with a non-attorney representative. The ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert. Id. In September 2017, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined by the Social Security Act. (Tr. 143- 157). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review in March 2018. (Tr. 1). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the denial of her application for benefits.

         Plaintiff was 45-years-old on the alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 156). She holds at least a high school diploma. (Tr. 156). Plaintiff testified that she is married and that her daughter-in-law visits her several times a day (Tr. 173). Plaintiff has past relevant work as a nurse supervisor/manager (light, skilled work actually performed at very heavy exertion by Plaintiff) and as a license practical nurse (medium, skilled work actually performed at very heavy exertion by Plaintiff). (Tr. 156).

         Based upon the record and testimony presented at the hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “rheumatoid arthritis; disorders of the spine; a history of bilateral scleritis with a large refractive shift on the right, bilateral uveitis, mild cystoid macular edema on the right, a steroid responder on the right, and bilateral nuclear sclerosis; diabetes mellitus; obesity; and a depressive disorder.” (Tr. 145). Treatment records characterize these conditions as well controlled. Id. 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 (Tr. 146). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff retains the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with the following limitations:

The claimant can stand and/or walk for four hours and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday. The claimant can occasionally operate overhead hand controls and reach overhead, and frequently handle and finger. The claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but must never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant must avoid unprotected heights and hazardous machinery. The claimant must not work in driving jobs. The claimant can carry out simple tasks, but can carry out complex tasks occasionally. The claimant can maintain attention for simple tasks and decisions, can make simple decisions, and can adequately adhere to a schedule that does not have any strict time limits or production standards. The claimant can interact occasionally with the public, coworkers, and supervisors. The claimant can adapt to a setting in which duties are routine and predictable. Changes in routine should be explained in advance. The claimant will be off-task for 10% of the workday and absent one day each month.

(Tr. 148). 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 there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she can perform, including such jobs as routing clerk, inspector, and mail clerk. (Tr. 157). Even if more limited, Plaintiff could perform sedentary, unskilled jobs such as sorter, bench assembler, and folder. (Tr. 157). 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's RFC finding is not supported by substantial evidence. 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 ...

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