Evans v. Commissioner of Social Security, No. 3:2016cv00111 - Document 12 (S.D. Ohio 2017)

Court Description: DECISION AND ENTRY: (1) AFFIRMING THE ALJ'S NON-DISABILITY FINDING AS SUPPORTED BY SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE; AND (2) TERMINATING THIS CASE ON THE DOCKET - The Court thus AFFIRMS the ALJs non-disability finding as supported by substantial evidence, and TERMINATES this case on the docket. IT IS SO ORDERED. Signed by Magistrate Judge Michael J. Newman on 9/29/2017. (srb)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO WESTERN DIVISION AT DAYTON CHAD T. EVANS, Plaintiff, Case No. 3:16-cv-111 vs. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Magistrate Judge Michael J. Newman (Consent Case) Defendant. ______________________________________________________________________________ DECISION AND ENTRY: (1) AFFIRMING THE ALJ’S NON-DISABILITY FINDING AS SUPPORTED BY SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE; AND (2) TERMINATING THIS CASE ON THE DOCKET ______________________________________________________________________________ This Social Security disability benefits appeal is before the undersigned for disposition based upon the parties’ consent. Doc. 8. At issue is whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in finding Plaintiff not “disabled” and therefore unentitled to Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and/or Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”).1 This case is before the Court on Plaintiff’s Statement of Errors (doc. 9), the Commissioner’s memorandum in opposition (doc. 10), Plaintiff’s reply (doc. 11), the administrative record (doc. 6 and 7),2 and the record as a whole. “The Commissioner’s regulations governing the evaluation of disability for DIB and SSI are identical . . . and are found at 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, and 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 respectively.” Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). Citations in this Report and Recommendation to DIB regulations are made with full knowledge of the corresponding SSI regulations, and vice versa. 2 Hereafter, citations to the electronically-filed administrative record will refer only to the PageID number. 1 I. A. Procedural History Plaintiff filed for DIB and SSI asserting disability as of September 10, 2012 as a result of a number of alleged impairments including, inter alia, depression, chronic pain, and headaches. PageID 337. After an initial denial of his application, Plaintiff received a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Emily Ruth Statum on June 20, 2014. PageID 831-60. The ALJ issued a written decision on September 23, 2014 finding Plaintiff not disabled. PageID 111-26. Specifically, the ALJ found at Step Five that, based upon Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a reduced range of sedentary work,3 “there are jobs in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform[.]” PageID 125. Thereafter, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review, making the ALJ’s non-disability finding the final administrative decision of the Commissioner. PageID 58-63. See Casey v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993). Plaintiff then filed this timely appeal. Cook v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 480 F.3d 432, 435 (6th Cir. 2007). B. Evidence of Record The evidence of record is adequately summarized in the ALJ’s decision (PageID 111-26), Plaintiff’s Statement of Errors (doc. 9), and the Commissioner’s memorandum in opposition (doc. 10). The undersigned incorporates all of the foregoing and sets forth the facts relevant to this appeal herein. The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) classifies jobs as sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very heavy depending on the physical exertion requirements. Sedentary work “involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools. Although a sedentary job is defined as one which involves sitting, a certain amount of walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties.” Id. § 404.1567(a). 3 2 II. A. Standard of Review The Court’s inquiry on a Social Security appeal is to determine (1) whether the ALJ’s non-disability finding is supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the ALJ employed the correct legal criteria. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Bowen v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 74546 (6th Cir. 2007). In performing this review, the Court must consider the record as a whole. Hephner v. Mathews, 574 F.2d 359, 362 (6th Cir. 1978). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). When substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s denial of benefits, that finding must be affirmed, even if substantial evidence also exists in the record upon which the ALJ could have found Plaintiff disabled. Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th Cir. 2001). Thus, the ALJ has a “‘zone of choice’ within which he [or she] can act without the fear of court interference.” Id. at 773. The second judicial inquiry -- reviewing the correctness of the ALJ’s legal analysis -may result in reversal even if the ALJ’s decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record. Rabbers v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. 2009). “[A] decision of the Commissioner will not be upheld where the [Social Security Administration] fails to follow its own regulations and where that error prejudices a claimant on the merits or deprives the claimant of a substantial right.” Bowen, 478 F.3d at 746. B. “Disability” Defined To be eligible for disability benefits, a claimant must be under a “disability” as defined by the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Narrowed to its statutory meaning, a “disability” includes physical and/or mental impairments that are both “medically determinable” 3 and severe enough to prevent a claimant from (1) performing his or her past job and (2) engaging in “substantial gainful activity” that is available in the regional or national economies. Id. Administrative regulations require a five-step sequential evaluation for disability determinations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). Although a dispositive finding at any step ends the ALJ’s review, see Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007), the complete sequential review poses five questions: 1. Has the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity? 2. Does the claimant suffer from one or more severe impairments? 3. Do the claimant’s severe impairments, alone or in combination, meet or equal the criteria of an impairment set forth in the Commissioner’s Listing of Impairments (the “Listings”), 20 C.F.R. Subpart P, Appendix 1? 4. Considering the claimant’s RFC, can he or she perform his or her past relevant work? 5. Assuming the claimant can no longer perform his or her past relevant work -- and also considering the claimant’s age, education, past work experience, and RFC -- do significant numbers of other jobs exist in the national economy which the claimant can perform? 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); see also Miller v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 181 F. Supp.2d 816, 818 (S.D. Ohio 2001). A claimant bears the ultimate burden of establishing disability under the Social Security Act. Key v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 109 F.3d 270, 274 (6th Cir. 1997). III. In his Statement of Errors, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in: (1) failing to find Plaintiff’s trigeminal neuralgia and psychological impairments severe; (2) improperly weighing the physicians of record; and (3) finding him not entirely credible. Doc. 9 at PageID 872-83. Having carefully reviewed the administrative record and the parties’ briefs, and also having carefully considered the ALJ’s analysis leading to the non-disability finding here at issue, the Court finds the ALJ carefully and reasonably developed and reviewed the record; 4 appropriately considered the medical evidence at issue; properly weighed opinion evidence based upon reasons supported by substantial evidence (including the opinion of Jerry Flexman, Ph.D.); reasonably assessed Plaintiff’s credibility; accurately determined Plaintiff’s RFC; reasonably applied applicable Social Security Rulings; and appropriately concluded, at Step Five, that Plaintiff can perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. Based upon the foregoing, the undersigned finds the ALJ’s non-disability finding supported by substantial evidence. IV. The Court thus AFFIRMS the ALJ’s non-disability finding as supported by substantial evidence, and TERMINATES this case on the docket. IT IS SO ORDERED. Date: September 29, 2017 s/ Michael J. Newman Michael J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge 5