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Long v. Saul

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

December 18, 2019




         Plaintiff Marcella Long (“Plaintiff”) requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Defendant”) denying her application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). ECF Dkt. #1. In her brief on the merits, filed on February 11, 2019, Plaintiff asserts that the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) committed two errors warranting a reversal and/or remand of her case. ECF Dkt. #14. On April 26, 2019, Defendant filed a brief on the merits. ECF Dkt. #17. For the following reasons, the Court AFFIRMS the ALJ's decision and DISMISSES Plaintiff's case in its entirety WITH PREJUDICE.


         Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB and SSI in November 2015, alleging disability beginning November 13, 2014 due to spinal synopsis/back problems, troubles standing, troubles walking, leg problems, and diabetes. ECF Dkt. #10 (“Tr.”)[2] at 67, 75, 83-84, 172, 176. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. at 74, 82, 95, 106. On June 17, 2016, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing. Id. at 131.

         On October 13, 2017, a hearing was held before an ALJ in which Plaintiff, with counsel present, and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. Tr. at 27. The ALJ issued his decision on February 15, 2018, finding Plaintiff not disabled and denying her applications for DIB and SSI. Id. at 9-21. Plaintiff requested a review of the hearing decision, and on August 13, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review. Id. at 1-4. On October 9, 2018, Plaintiff filed the instant suit seeking review of the ALJ's decision. ECF Dkt. #1. On December 17, 2018, the parties consented to the authority of a Magistrate Judge. ECF Dkt. #11; #12. Plaintiff filed a merits brief on February 11, 2019 and Defendant filed a merits brief on April 26, 2019. ECF Dkt. #14; #17.


         On February 15, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. at 9-21. The ALJ stated that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2019. Id. at 14. He further found that despite having worked after the alleged disability onset date, Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 13, 2014, the alleged onset date. Id. Continuing, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: diabetes; hypothyroidism; essential hypertension; Grade 1 anterior spondylolisthesis and disc space narrowing at ¶ 4-5 with evidence of instability on the flexion and extension views; straightening of the cervical lordotic curve with decrease and slight osteophyte formation at ¶ 5-6; and obesity. Id. at 15. The ALJ then indicated 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. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id.

         After consideration of the record, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b)[3] with the following restrictions: can occasionally lift and carry 20 pounds and frequently lift and carry 10 pounds; is able to stand and walk 4 hours of an 8-hour workday; can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, but can occasionally climb ramps or stairs; can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl; and can never be exposed to unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts and never operate a motor vehicle. Tr. at 15-16. The ALJ then stated that Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work as a dispatcher and cashier and that this work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the Plaintiff's RFC. Id. at 19. Ultimately, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from November 13, 2014 through the date of his decision. Id. at 21.


         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 plaintiff 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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