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Brown v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 30, 2019

JEFFREY WAYNE BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Dlott, J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KAREN L. LITKOVITZ, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jeffrey Wayne Brown brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs statement of errors (Doc. 8), the Commissioner's response in opposition (Doc. 13), and plaintiff s reply memorandum. (Doc. 14).

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff protectively filed his application for DIB on April 28, 2015, alleging disability since May 25, 2011, due to herniated disc, degenerated disc and sciatic nerve. The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff, through counsel, requested and was granted a de novo hearing before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Donald G. D'Amato. Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") appeared and testified at the ALJ hearing via video conference on October 19, 2017. On December 15, 2017, ALJ D'Amato issued a decision denying plaintiffs DIB application. Plaintiffs request for review by the Appeals Council was denied, making the decision of ALJ D'Amato the final decision of the Commissioner.

         II. Analysis

         A. Legal Framework for Disability Determinations

         To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must suffer from a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The impairment must render the claimant unable to engage in the work previously performed or in any other substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2).

         Regulations promulgated by the Commissioner establish a five-step sequential evaluation process for disability determinations:

1) If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, the claimant is not disabled.
2) If the claimant does not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment - i.e., an impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities - the claimant is not disabled.
3) If the claimant has a severe impairment(s) that meets or equals one of the listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations and meets the duration requirement, the claimant is disabled.
4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him or her from doing his or her past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled.
5) If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is disabled.

Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 582 F.3d 647, 652 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), 404.1520(b)-(g)). The claimant has the burden of proof at the first four steps of the sequential evaluation process. Id.; Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 548 (6th Cir. 2004). Once the claimant establishes a prima facie case by showing an inability to perform the relevant previous employment, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other substantial gainful employment and that such employment exists in the national economy. Rabbers, 582 F.3d at 652; Harmon v. Apfel, 168 F.3d 289, 291 (6th Cir. 1999).

         B. The Administrative Law Judge's Findings

         The ALJ applied the sequential evaluation process and made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

1. The [plaintiff] meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017.
2. The [plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 25, 2011, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571, et seq).
3. The [plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, status post two fusion surgeries; lumbar radiculopathy; personality disorder; affective disorder; history of alcohol abuse/dependence; and obesity (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. The [plaintiff] does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the [ALJ] finds that the [plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity [("RFC")] to perform work that is unskilled with one-, two-, or three-step instructions that is non-fast-rate production, defined as involving no conveyor belt or assembly line work; can occasionally function as a member of a discrete team and contact with coworkers and supervisors is largely superficial and occasional; can only occasionally be in directive interactive contact with the public; requires a "low stress" environment, defined as having only occasional changes in the work setting; lift and/or carry 5 pounds frequently and 10 pounds occasionally; stand and/or walk with normal breaks for 2 hours in an 8-hour workday, but can do so for only 15 minutes at one time; can sit with normal breaks for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, but can do so for only 15 minutes at one time; can perform pushing and pulling motions with the upper extremities within the aforementioned weight restrictions for not more than 2/3 of an 8-hour workday but can only occasionally do so with the lower extremities; needs to avoid hazards in the workplace such as moving machinery and unprotected heights; job responsibilities do not include the use of hand held vibrating tools; needs a work environment with stable temperatures, stable humidity, and good ventilation; can occasionally balance, stoop, and crouch, but needs to avoid climbing, kneeling, and crawling; and requires work that, in addition to any regularly-scheduled breaks, allows him to be off task up to 10% per 8-hour workday due to the symptoms of his impairments and/or the ancillary effects of treatment for such impairments.
6. The [plaintiff] is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).[1]
7. The [plaintiff) was born [in] . .. 1969 and was 41 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the alleged disability onset date. The [plaintiff] subsequently changed age category to a younger individual age 45-49 (20 CFR 404.1563).
8. The [plaintiff] has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in ...

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