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Dyer v. Colvin

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

May 28, 2013

JOANIE M. DYER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.

This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Joanie M. Dyer ("Dyer" or "the Claimant") and Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"). [Record Nos. 16, 17] Dyer argues that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") assigned to her case erred in finding that she is not entitled to a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, or Supplemental Security Insurance. Conversely, the Commissioner contends that the record contains substantial evidence to support the ALJ's decision denying benefits to Dyer, and that his decision should be affirmed. Because substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, and because Dyer's arguments are without merit, the Court will grant the Commissioner's motion and deny the relief requested by Dyer.


Dyer filed an application for a period of disability, disability insurance, and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits on December 29, 2008, alleging a disability beginning November 1, 2008. [Tr., p. 33] Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. [ Id. ] Dyer appeared and testified at an administrative hearing held on March 15, 2011, in Lexington, Kentucky. [ Id. ] Linda Taber, an impartial vocational expert, also testified at the hearing. [ Id. ]

The ALJ issued a decision unfavorable to the Claimant on March 24, 2011. Dyer was forty-eight years old at the time of the ALJ's decision.[1] She has a General Equivalency Diploma ("GED"). After reviewing the record and the testimony submitted during the administrative hearing, the ALJ determined that Dyer suffered from the severe impairments of "[h]istory of coronary artery disease, status-post-stenting; carotid artery stenosis without inf[r]action; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; acromioclavicular joint crepitus of right shoulder; degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine; status-post bilateral carpal tunnel release; bipolar disorder, by history; anxiety disorder with post-traumatic stress disorder features; [and] pain disorder." [Tr., p. 36] Notwithstanding these impairments, the ALJ found that Dyer has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work, with additional limitations. [Tr., p. 42] Specifically, he found the following limitations:

[....]lifting/carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; standing/walking a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; sitting a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; no more than frequently pushing/pulling with the [right upper extremity]; only occasionally climbing stairs or ramps; never climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds; only occasionally balancing, kneeling, crouching, or crawling; no more than frequently handling bilaterally....; no more than frequent[] overhead reaching bilaterally; she should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, heat, humidity, full-body vibration, fumes, odors, dust or gases, and all hazards such as unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. She also suffers with mental impairments; however, she would be able to understand, remember and carry out simply work instructions and procedures requiring brief learning periods; sustain concentration, effort and pace for simple work tasks requiring little independent judgment and involving minimal variation and doing so at requisite schedules of work and breaks, interact frequently as needed with supervisors and coworkers and sufficiently for task completion, yet requiring no more than occasionally interaction with the public and adapt adequately to situational conditions and changes with reasonable support and structure.

[Tr., pp. 42-43].

Based on the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ found that Dyer could perform her past relevant work.[2] Alternatively, he found that she could perform such jobs as a housekeeper, gatekeeper, and assembler. [Tr., pp. 25-26] After determining that Dyer could perform both her past work and other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy, the ALJ concluded that she was not disabled.


Under the Social Security Act, a "disability" is defined as "the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity' because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment of at least one year's expected duration." Cruse v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 502 F.3d 532, 539 (6th Cir. 2007). A claimant's Social Security disability determination is made by an ALJ in accordance with "a five-step sequential evaluation process.'" Combs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 642 (6th Cir. 2006) (en banc) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)). If the claimant satisfies the first four steps of the process, the burden shifts to the Commissioner with respect to the fifth step. See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003).

First, the claimant must demonstrate that she is not engaged in substantial gainful employment at the time of the disability application. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). Second, the claimant must show that she suffers from a severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). Third, if the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful employment and has a severe impairment which is expected to last for at least twelve months and which meets or equals a listed impairment, she will be considered disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). Fourth, if the Commissioner cannot make a determination of disability based on medical evaluations and current work activity and the claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner will then review the claimant's RFC and relevant past work to determine whether she can perform his past work. If she can, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f).

Under the fifth step of the analysis, if the claimant's impairment prevents her from doing past work, the Commissioner will consider her RFC, age, education, and past work experience to determine whether she can perform other work. If she cannot perform other work, the Commissioner will find the claimant disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g). The Commissioner has the burden of proof only on "the fifth step, proving that there is work available in the economy that the claimant can perform." White v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 312 F.Appx. 779, 785 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th Cir. 1999)).

Judicial review of the denial of a claim for Social Security benefits is limited to determining whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007). The substantial evidence standard presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which decision makers can go either way, without interference from the court. McClanahan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as sufficient to support the conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007).

If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed even if the Court would decide the case differently and even if the claimant's position is also supported by substantial evidence. Smith v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 482 F.3d 873, 876 (6th Cir. 2007); Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007); Longworth v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005); Casey v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993). ...

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