United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DAVID L. BUNNING, District Judge.
Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Court, having reviewed the record and the parties' dispositive motions, finds that the Commissioner's decision at Step 3 is not supported by substantial evidence and will, therefore, remand for further proceedings.
II. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL POSTURE
Plaintiff Jessica Marie Marlowe had received Supplemental Security Income benefits since December 20, 2000 on the basis of mental retardation. (Tr. 63). At that time, Plaintiff was ten years old. ( Id. ). After Plaintiff turned eighteen, the Social Security Administration reviewed her eligibility pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(H)(iii) and determined that she was no longer entitled to benefits. (Tr. 66-68). A disability hearing officer reviewed Plaintiff's claim and on October 25, 2010 affirmed the termination of benefits. (Tr. 82-86). Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which took place before ALJ Todd Spangler in Middlesboro, Kentucky on June 2, 2011. (Tr. 26). ALJ Spangler returned an unfavorable decision on July 19, 2011, (Tr. 7), and Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 5). Plaintiff's request was denied on August 2, 2012. Thus, she has requested judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Tr. 1)
The present action was filed on October 1, 2012. (Doc. #1). The matter has culminated in cross-motions for summary judgment, (Docs. # 6, 7), which are now ripe for review.
A. Overview of the Process
Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is restricted to determining whether it is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards. Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). "Substantial evidence" is defined as "more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. Courts are to review the entire administrative record to determine whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence, but may "not reconsider facts, re-weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts in evidence, decide questions of credibility, or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ." Reynolds v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 424 F.App'x 411, 414 (6th Cir. 2011) (citing Youghiogheny & Ohio Coal Co. v. Webb, 49 F.3d 244, 246 (6th Cir. 1995)). An administrative decision is not subject to reversal merely because substantial evidence would have supported the opposite conclusion. See Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 780, 782 (6th Cir. 1996). "Conversely, if the ALJ commits an error of law, the court must reverse and remand, even if the factual determinations are otherwise supported by substantial evidence and the outcome on remand is unlikely to be different.'" Reynolds, 424 F.App'x at 414 (quoting Kalmback v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 409 F.App'x 852, 859 (6th Cir. 2011)).
The ALJ conducts a five-step analysis in determining disability. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a).
Step 1 considers whether the claimant is still performing substantial gainful activity. If so, the claimant is not entitled to benefits. If not, the ALJ proceeds to the next step. Id . at § 416.920(a)(4)(I).
Step 2 determines whether the claimant suffers from any serious mental or physical impairments. If not, the claimant is not entitled to benefits. If so, the ALJ proceeds to the next step. Id. at § 416.920(a)(4)(ii).
Step 3 compares the claimant's physical or mental impairments with the automatic triggers for disability payments that are listed in agency regulations. If the claimant's impairments match one of those listed, then the claimant automatically qualifies for benefits. If the claimant does not automatically qualify, then the ALJ proceeds to the next step. Id. at § 416.920(a)(4)(iii).
Step 4 determines whether the claimant can perform past relevant work. If so, the claimant is not entitled to benefits. If not, the ALJ proceeds to the fifth ...