United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division
CHARMIANE G. CLAXTON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
cause is before the court on the plaintiff's complaint
for judicial review of an unfavorable final decision of
Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the
Social Security, regarding the application for Disability
Insurance Benefits. The parties have consented to entry of
final judgment by the United States Magistrate Judge under
the provisions of 28 U.S.C.§ 636(c), with any appeal to
the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The court, having
reviewed the record, the administrative transcript, the
briefs of the parties, and the applicable law and having
heard oral argument on October 2, 2017, finds as follows,
primary argument of Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on
the Pleadings and reply brief is that the January 20, 2012
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) is a
“final decision” for the purposes of Drummond
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 126 F.3d 837, 842 (6th
Cir.1997) and Acquiescence Ruling 98-4(6), 1998 WL 283902
(1998) and that in the May 22, 2015 ALJ decision, the ALJ
erred by not accepting as definitive the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) as determined by ALJ Jerry Lang
on January 20, 2012. The Commissioner responds that, because
the January 20, 2012 decision was remanded by the U.S.
District Court (Covington v.Commissioner,
1:13-1251-JDT, September 26, 2014, D.E. #15), it was vacated
and was not final for purposes of Drummond.
Drummond, the claimant filed an initial application
which was denied initially and on reconsideration.
Drummond at 838. After a hearing, the ALJ found that
the claimant was unable to perform past work but retained a
RFC for sedentary work. Id. The claimant took no
appeal from this decision. She filed a second application and
then a third application for disability insurance benefits.
The third application was initially denied and also on
reconsideration. The ALJ reviewing this subsequent claim
found that claimant retained a RFC for medium level work and
could perform her past relevant work. Id. at 839.
Sixth Circuit held on appeal that based on the principles of
res judicata “[w]hen the Commissioner has made
a final decision concerning a claimant's entitlement to
benefits, the Commissioner is bound by this determination
absent changed circumstances.” Id. at 842.
Ruling 98-4(6) states that “[w]hen adjudicating a
subsequent disability claim with an unadjudicated period
arising under the same title of the Act as the prior claim,
adjudicators must adopt such a finding from the final
decision by an ALJ or the Appeals Council on the prior claim
in determining whether the claimant is disabled with respect
to the unadjudicated period unless there is new and material
evidence relating to such a finding or there has been a
change in the law, regulations or rulings affecting the
finding or the method for arriving at the finding.”
judicata is a common-law concept which prescribes that
“a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes
the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that
were or could have been raised in that action.”
Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94, 101 S.Ct. 411,
414, 66 L.Ed.2d 308 (1980) (citing Cromwell v. County of
Sac, 94 U.S. (4 Otto) 351, 352, 24 L.Ed. 195(1876)). The
Sixth Circuit has made clear that “[a] judgment that
has been vacated, reversed or set aside on appeal is thereby
deprived of all conclusive effect, both as res
judicata and as collateral estoppel.” Kosinski
v. C.I.R., 541 F.3d 671, 676 (6th Cir. 2008).
instant case is distinguished from Drummond in that
an appeal to the District Court was taken from the January
12, 2012 decision that Claimant wishes to rely upon and the
result of the appeal was remand by the District Court on
September 26, 2014 (R. 415) and vacation of that decision by
the Appeal Council on December 2, 2014 (R. 424). The judgment
specifically states that on remand, “the ALJ must
decide whether, in his discretion,
Plaintiff's prior claim and the determination of her
residual functional capacity should be reopened.” (R.
415, emphasis in the original). The District Court order left
no doubt that the residual functional capacity issue was left
open for the ALJ to resolve without the requirement of
deference to the prior decision. Therefore the January 12,
2012 decision is not final for purposes of res
judicata and has no conclusive effect.
Court finds that the January 20, 2012 decision is not a final
decision for the purposes of Drummond and AR
98-4(6). Specifically, the Appeals Council “[vacated]
the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security” therefore the second ALJ was not required to
give any deference to the RFC determined by the first ALJ.
There is substantial evidence to support the ALJ's
decision at step four and step five. The decision of the
Commissioner is AFFIRMED and the Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings is DENIED.