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Earley v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

June 27, 2018

Sharon Earley, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued: June 5, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio at Dayton. No. 3:15-cv-00166-Sharon L. Ovington, Magistrate Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Weili J. Shaw, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

          Michael A. Rake, HORENSTEIN, NICHOLSON & BLUMENTHAL, LPA, Dayton, Ohio, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Weili J. Shaw, Alisa B. Klein, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

          Michael A. Rake, HORENSTEIN, NICHOLSON & BLUMENTHAL, LPA, Dayton, Ohio, for Appellee.

          Before: BOGGS, SILER, and SUTTON, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          SUTTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         In 2010, Sharon Earley applied for disability benefits. In 2012, an administrative law judge rejected the application on the ground that Earley did not have a covered disability. She applied again for a new period of time. The same administrative law judge denied her benefits, in part because he thought that one of our cases, Drummond v. Commissioner of Social Security, 126 F.3d 837 (6th Cir. 1997), required him to give preclusive effect to the work-capacity finding he had made during the first proceeding absent "new and material evidence documenting a significant change in the claimant's condition." A.R. 30. The district court reversed, concluding that the "principles of res judicata" announced in Drummond apply only when they favor an individual applicant, not the government, in a subsequent proceeding. That was wrong. The key principles protected by Drummond-consistency between proceedings and finality with respect to resolved applications-apply to individuals and the government. At the same time, they do not prevent the agency from giving a fresh look to a new application containing new evidence or satisfying a new regulatory threshold that covers a new period of alleged disability while being mindful of past rulings and the record in prior proceedings. We reverse and remand the case to the agency for reconsideration of Earley's application.

         I.

         Sharon Earley applied for disability benefits starting on June 25, 2010. Administrative Law Judge David Redmond considered the application. He found that she suffered from a host of physical and mental impairments, including fibromyalgia, mild carpal tunnel syndrome, panic disorder, degenerative disk disease, and major depression. Even so, he found that she remained capable of holding jobs that demanded only light physical exertion and denied the application for the period between June 25, 2010 and May 15, 2012.

         Earley applied again in July 2012, arguing that she became disabled after the decision on her last application. The application went to Judge Redmond again. Invoking Drummond, he thought he was precluded from revisiting his earlier finding that Earley was not disabled unless she offered new and material evidence of a changed condition. See SSAR 98-4(6), 63 Fed. Reg. 29, 771, ...


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