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Walpole v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 26, 2019




         Plaintiff, Ronald Walpole (“Plaintiff”), brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c) for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (“SSDI”) and Supplemental Security Income benefits (“SSI”). This matter is before the Court for consideration of Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (ECF No. 13), the Commissioner's Memorandum in Opposition (ECF No. 18), and the administrative record (ECF No. 10). Plaintiff did not file a Reply. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Statement of Errors is OVERRULED and the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for disability benefits and supplemental security income on September 27, 2012. (R. at 12.) Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Id.) Administrative Law Judge David Bruce issued an administrative decision on February 1, 2016 denying Plaintiff's claims. (R. at 12, 190-203.) On January 10, 2017, the Appeals Council remanded the case to the ALJ to provide adequate support for the finding of past relevant work and a sufficient rationale to support Plaintiff's residual functional capacity. (R. at 210-12.) A hearing was held on July 12, 2017, in which Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. (R. at 72-107.) A vocational expert also appeared and testified at the hearing. (Id.) On August 10, 2017, Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Hartranft (“the ALJ”) issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled at any time after August 9, 2012, the alleged onset date. (R. at 12-29.) On February 22, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review and adopted the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision. (R. at 1-3.) Plaintiff then timely commenced the instant action. (ECF No. 1.)


         On November 16, 2015, John P. Abad, M.D., prescribed a wheeled walker for Plaintiff. (R. at 1788.) Dr. Abad's prescription sheet indicates the following: “Wheeled walker with hand brakes and seat [illegible] unstable gait secondary to tussive syncope[2].” (Id.)


         On August 10, 2017, the ALJ issued his decision. (R. at 12-29.) At step one of the sequential evaluation process, [3] the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 9, 2012, the alleged onset date. (R. at 15.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: tussive syncope, diabetes, and obesity. (Id.) The ALJ further found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. at 19.)

         At step four of the sequential process, the ALJ set forth Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) as follows:

[Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he can occasionally climb ramps and stairs and never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He must avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants such as fumes, odors, dust, and gases. He must avoid workplace hazards such as unprotected heights, moving machinery, and commercial driving.

(R. at 20.)

         Relying on testimony from the VE, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is capable of performing his past relevant work as an assembler as generally and actually performed, and his past relevant work as a conveyor feeder/off-bearer, spot welder, and security guard as actually performed, as those jobs do not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by Plaintiff's RFC. (R. at 27.) The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act from August 9, 2012, through the date of the administrative decision. (R. at 28.)


         When reviewing a case under the Social Security Act, the Court “must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it ‘is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards.'” Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007)); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .”). Under this standard, “substantial evidence is defined as ‘more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Rogers, 486 F.3d at 241 (quoting Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Hum. Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994)).

         Although the substantial evidence standard is deferential, it is not trivial. The Court must “‘take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from [the] weight'” of the Commissioner's decision. TNS, Inc. v. NLRB, 296 F.3d 384, 395 (6th Cir. 2002) (quoting Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S. 474, 487 (1951)). Nevertheless, “if substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, this Court defers to that finding ‘even if there is substantial evidence in the record that would have supported an opposite conclusion.'” Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997)).

         Finally, even if the ALJ's decision meets the substantial evidence standard, “‘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.'” Rabbers, 582 F.3d at 651 (quoting Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 746 (6th Cir. 2007)).

         V. ...

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