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Brown v. Saul

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

August 27, 2019

ANDREA BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL[1], COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          GEORGE J. LIMBERT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Andrea Brown (“Plaintiff”) requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration (“Defendant”) denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). ECF Dkt. #1. In her brief on the merits, Plaintiff asserts that the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) committed error that directly prejudiced Plaintiff because the ALJ failed to: (1) properly weigh the opinions of her treating psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner and the State agency physicians; and (2) properly analyze Plaintiff's condition in light of listing 12.03. ECF Dkt. #15. For the following reasons, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the ALJ and DISMISSES Plaintiff's case in its entirety WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on November 7, 2014, alleging disability beginning October 22, 2014 due to panic attacks and diabetes. ECF Dkt. #10 (“Tr.”) at 112, 114, 126, 139-41, 304, 311.[2] The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied her application at the initial level and upon reconsideration. Id. at 175, 184, 195, 200. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, and the ALJ held a hearing on February 9, 2017, where Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified. Id. at 66-67, 207, 210. A vocational expert (“VE”) also testified. Id. at 66-67. Subsequently, the initial ALJ became unavailable and did not issue a decision, and another hearing was held with a different ALJ on October 3, 2017. ECF Dkt. #15 at 1-2; ECF Dkt. #18 at 1 n.1; Tr. at 35-36, 263. Plaintiff and a different VE testified at the subsequent hearing. Tr. at 35-36.

         On February 1, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. Tr. at 12-28. Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision and the Appeals Council denied her request for review on March 7, 2018. Id. at 1-6, 302-03.

         On June 28, 2018, Plaintiff filed the instant suit seeking review of the ALJ's decision. ECF Dkt. #1. She filed a merits brief on December 6, 2018 and Defendant filed a merits brief on March 25, 2019. ECF Dkt. #15; ECF Dkt. #18.

         II. RELEVANT PORTIONS OF ALJ'S DECISION

         On February 1, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. at 12-28. The ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act (“SSA”) through September 30, 2016. Id. at 18. He further found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 22, 2014, the alleged onset date. Id. Continuing, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of coronary artery disease, status post stent placement, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, obesity, affective disorder, and anxiety disorder. Id. He further found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. After considering the record, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work with the following limitations: limited to climbing ramps and stairs frequently and never climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; must avoid concentrated exposure to extremes of cold and heat; must avoid all exposure to hazards, such as industrial machinery and unprotected heights; has the capacity to sustain concentration and persistence to complete simple tasks in an environment that does not require rapid pace, to relate adequately on a superficial and occasional basis, and to perform work in a setting without close over the shoulder supervision. Id. at 20.

         The ALJ then stated that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work, was a younger individual on the alleged disability onset date, had a limited education, and could communicate in English. Id. at 27. Next, the ALJ indicated that the transferability of jobs skill was not material to the determination of disability because her past relevant work was unskilled. Id. Considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined that jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. Id. For these reasons, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the SSA, from October 22, 2014 through the date of his decision. Id. at 28.

         III. STEPS TO EVALUATE ENTITLEMENT TO SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS

         An ALJ must proceed through the required sequential steps for evaluating entitlement to Social Security benefits. These steps are:

1. An individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity will not be found to be “disabled” regardless of medical findings (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b) and 416.920(b) (1992));
2. An individual who does not have a “severe impairment” will not be found to be “disabled” (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c) (1992));
3. If an individual is not working and is suffering from a severe impairment which meets the duration requirement, see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509 and 416.909 (1992), and which meets or is equivalent to a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, a finding of disabled will be made without consideration of vocational factors (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d) and 416.920(d) (1992));
4. If an individual is capable of performing the kind of work he or she has done in the past, a finding of “not disabled” must be made (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) and 416.920(e) (1992));
5. If an individual's impairment is so severe as to preclude the performance of the kind of work he or she has done in the past, other factors including age, education, past work experience and residual functional capacity must be considered to determine if other work can be performed (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f) and 416.920(f) (1992)).

Hogg v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 328, 332 (6th Cir. 1992). The claimant has the burden to go forward with the evidence in the first four steps and the Commissioner has the burden in the fifth step. Moon v. Sullivan, ...


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