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Wright v. Commissioner of the Social Security Administration

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

January 6, 2020

VICTORIA WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          Walter H. Rice District Judge.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS [1]

          Sharon L. Ovington United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Victoria Wright has suffered for many years with back pain and other health problems. She brings this case challenging the Social Security Administration's denial of her applications for period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits, and Supplemental Security Income. She applied for benefits in March 2015, asserting that she could no longer work a substantial paid job. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Mark Hockensmith concluded that she was not eligible for benefits because she is not under a “disability” as defined in the Social Security Act.

         The case is before the Court upon Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (Doc. #7), the Commissioner's Memorandum in Opposition (Doc. #11), Plaintiff's Reply (Doc. #12), and the administrative record (Doc. #6).

         Plaintiff seeks a remand of this case for payment of benefits or, at a minimum, for further proceedings. The Commissioner asks the Court to affirm ALJ Hockensmith's non-disability decision.

         II. Background

         Plaintiff asserts that she has been under a “disability” since March 15, 2015. She was fifty years old at that time and was therefore considered a person “closely approaching advanced age” under Social Security Regulations. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(d), 416.963(d). She has a high school education. See Id. §§ 404.1564(b)(4), 416.964(b)(4).[2]

         The evidence of record is sufficiently summarized in the ALJ's decision (Doc. #6, PageID #s 60-75), Plaintiff's Statement of Errors (Doc. #7), the Commissioner's Memorandum in Opposition (Doc. #11), and Plaintiff's Reply. Rather than repeat these summaries, the pertinent evidence will be discussed when addressing the parties' arguments.

         III. Standard of Review

         The Social Security Administration provides Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income to individuals who are under a “disability, ” among other eligibility requirements. Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 470 (1986); see 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(a)(1), 1382(a). The term “disability”-as defined by the Social Security Act-has specialized meaning of limited scope. It encompasses “any medically determinable physical or mental impairment” that precludes an applicant from performing a significant paid job-i.e., “substantial gainful activity, ” in Social Security lexicon. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A); see Bowen, 476 U.S. at 469-70.

         Judicial review of an ALJ's non-disability decision proceeds along two lines: “whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether the findings of the ALJ are supported by substantial evidence.” Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir. 2009); see Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 745-46 (6th Cir. 2007). Review for substantial evidence is not driven by whether the Court agrees or disagrees with the ALJ's factual findings or by whether the administrative record contains evidence contrary to those factual findings. Gentry v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 741 F.3d 708, 722 (6th Cir. 2014); Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007). Instead, the ALJ's factual findings are upheld if the substantial-evidence standard is met-that is, “if a ‘reasonable mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Blakley, 581 F.3d at 407 (quoting Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004)). Substantial evidence consists of “more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance . . . .” Rogers, 486 F.3d at 241 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted); see Gentry, 741 F.3d at 722.

         The other line of judicial inquiry-reviewing the correctness of the ALJ's legal criteria-may result in reversal even when the record contains substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's factual findings. Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. 2009); see Bowen, 478 F.3d at 746. “[E]ven if 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, 582 F.3d at 651 (quoting in part Bowen, 478 F.3d at 746, and citing Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 546-47 (6th Cir. 2004)).

         IV. The ALJ's Decision

         As noted previously, it fell to ALJ Hockensmith to evaluate the evidence connected to Plaintiff's applications for benefits. He did so by considering each of the five sequential steps set forth in the Social Security Regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. He reached the following main conclusions:

Step 1: Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful employment since March 15, 2015.
Step 2: She has the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine; mild arthritis of the left hip; mild right knee osteoarthritis; obesity; bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome; hypertension; ...

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