United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
J. LIMBERT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Chopka (“Plaintiff”) requests judicial review of
the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Defendant”) denying her application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). ECF Dkt.
#1. In her merits brief, filed on August 27, 2018, Plaintiff
asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
lacked substantial evidence to support his decision because
(1) the evidence documents medical findings demonstrating
that Plaintiff meets the requirements of Listing 1.04B at
step three; and (2) he failed to fully and fairly evaluate
Plaintiff's complaints of pain in his determination of
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). ECF Dkt. #13. On October 25, 2018,
Defendant filed a brief on the merits. ECF Dkt. #15.
following reasons, the Court AFFIRMS the ALJ's decision
and DISMISSES Plaintiff's complaint in its entirety with
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
filed an application for DIB on March 2, 2015 alleging
disability beginning November 4, 2002 due to anxiety,
depression, sleep apnea, siatica, nerve damage, drop foot,
spondiolosis, degenerative disc disease (“DDD”),
chronic pain, neropathy, and numbness in legs and stabbing
pain. ECF Dkt. #9 at 94, 106-07, 119, 201. The Social
Security Administration (“SSA”) denied
Plaintiff's application initially and upon
reconsideration. Id. at 94-119. Plaintiff requested
a hearing before an ALJ which was held on July 26, 2017.
Id. at 72, 125, 133, 173. At the hearing, Plaintiff
was represented by counsel and testified, and a vocational
expert (“VE”) testified as well. Id. at
August 25, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision denying
Plaintiff's application for DIB. Tr. at 9-24. Plaintiff
requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's
decision, and the Appeals Council denied her request for
review on March 27, 2018. Id. at 1-6. On April 25,
2018, Plaintiff filed the instant suit seeking review of the
ALJ's decision. ECF Dkt. #1. Plaintiff filed a merits
brief on August 27, 2018, and Defendant subsequently filed a
merits brief on October 25, 2018. ECF Dkt. #13; ECF Dkt. #15.
RELEVANT PORTIONS OF THE ALJ'S DECISION
August 25, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding that
Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act (“SSA”) on December 31, 2007.
Tr. at 14. He found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since November 4, 2002, the
alleged onset date. Id. He further found that
through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the severe
impairments of: DDD and obesity. Id. The ALJ
determined that through the date last insured, 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.
at 16. After considering the record, the ALJ found that,
through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the RFC to
perform sedentary work with the following limitations: can
climb ramps and stairs occasionally but never climb ladders,
ropes, and scaffolds; could never balance, kneel or crawl but
she can occasionally stoop and crouch; can never work at
unprotected heights or near moving mechanical parts.
the date last insured and based upon Plaintiff's age,
education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff could perform jobs existing in significant numbers
in the national economy. Tr. at 22-23. In conclusion, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as
defined in the SSA, and she was not entitled to DIB from
November 4, 2002 through December 31, 2007, the date that she
was last insured. Id. at 24.
STEPS TO EVALUATE ENTITLEMENT TO SOCIAL SECURITY
must proceed through the required sequential steps for
evaluating entitlement to Social Security benefits. These
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, 923 F.2d 1175,
1181 (6th Cir. 1990).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
the Social Security Act, the ALJ weighs the evidence,
resolves any conflicts, and makes a determination of
disability. This Court's review of such a determination
is limited in scope by § 205 of the Act, which states
that the “findings of the Commissioner of Social
Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). Therefore, this Court's scope of review is
limited to determining whether substantial evidence supports
the findings of the Commissioner and whether the Commissioner
applied the correct legal standards. Abbott v.
Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 922 (6th Cir. 1990).
substantial-evidence standard requires the Court to affirm
the Commissioner's findings if they are supported by
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Cole
v. Astrue, 661 F.3d 931, 937 (citing Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal citation
omitted)). Substantial evidence is defined as “more
than a scintilla of evidence but less than a
preponderance.” Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 486 F.3d 234 (6thCir. 2007). Accordingly, when
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's denial of
benefits, that finding must be affirmed, even if a
preponderance of the evidence exists in the record upon which
the ALJ could have found plaintiff disabled. The substantial
evidence standard creates a “‘zone of choice'
within which [an ALJ] can act without the fear of court
interference.” Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762,
773 (6th Cir.2001). However, an ALJ's failure to follow
agency rules and regulations “denotes a lack of
substantial evidence, even where the conclusion of the ALJ
may be justified based upon the record.” Cole,
661 F.3d at 937 (citing Blakely v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 407 (6th Cir.2009)) (citations
omitted). Therefore, even if an ALJ's decision is
supported by substantial evidence, “a decision of the
Commissioner will not be upheld where the SSA 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 v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 746
(6th Cir. 2007)).
LAW AND ANALYSIS
Step 3 ...