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Gilbert v. Colvin

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

May 28, 2013

LISA GILBERT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER

KARL S. FORESTER, Senior District Judge.

The plaintiff, Lisa Gilbert, 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 denying her claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). The Court, having reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner's decision, as it is supported by substantial evidence.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Gilbert filed her claim for benefits on September 4, 2008, alleging an onset date of May 9, 2007 [TR XXX-XXX-XX]. Her claim was denied initially on November 17, 2008, and again on reconsideration on February 21, 2009. She then filed a written request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). After the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on December 7, 2010 [TR 21-36].

At the time the ALJ rendered her decision, Gilbert was 48 years old. [TR 137]. She has earned her GED, and has past work experience as a cashier, cook, and dispatcher. [TR 184, 187]. She claims that she became disabled on May 9, 2007 due to diabetes, depression, and a ruptured disc in her lower back [TR 183].

In determining whether a claimant has a compensable disability under the Social Security Act, the regulations provide a five-step sequential process which the ALJ must follow. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(e); see Walters v. Commissioner of Social Security, 127 F.3d 525, 529 (6th Cir. 1997). The five steps, in summary, are as follows:

(1) If the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled.
(2) If the claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity, her impairment must be severe before she can be found disabled.
(3) If the claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity and is suffering from a severe impairment that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and her impairment meets or equals a listed impairment, the claimant is presumed disabled without further inquiry.
(4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent her from doing past relevant work, she is not disabled.
(5) Even if the claimant's impairment does prevent her from doing her past relevant work, if other work exists in the national economy that accommodates her residual functional capacity and vocational factors (age, education, skills, etc), she is not disabled.

Id. The burden of proof is on the claimant throughout the first four steps of this process to prove that she is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146, n. 5 (1987). If the ALJ reaches the fifth step without a finding that the claimant is not disabled, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner to consider her residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience to determine if she could perform other work. If not, she would be deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. 404.1520(f). Importantly, the Commissioner only has the burden of proof on "the fifth step, proving that there is work available in the economy that the claimant can perform." Her v. Commissioner of Social Security, 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th Cir. 1999).

The ALJ began his analysis by determining that Gilbert met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2011 [TR 26]. At step one, the ALJ found that Gilbert has not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date [TR 26]. At step two, the ALJ determined that Gilbert suffers from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, status post diskectomy with residual chronic back pain; insulin dependent diabetes mellitus; obesity; and a depressive disorder with anxiety components [TR 26]. Continuing on to the third step, the ALJ determined that Gilbert does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals in severity any of the listed impairments [TR 27].

The ALJ then found that, based on the medically determinable evidence, Gilbert has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform less than a full range of light work. Specifically, the ALJ found that Gilbert "can lift ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally; stand walk six hours in an eight hour day, but not more than two hours at a time; sit six hours in an eight hour day, but not more than two hours at a time; occasionally climb ramps and stairs but never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; avoid concentrated exposure to vibration; avoid all exposure to unprotected heights; precluded from tasks requiring a commercial driver's license; and requires an object-focused work environment, with limited public contact" [TR 28]. At step four, the ALJ determined that, based on her RFC, Gilbert cannot perform any past relevant work. However, after applying the Medical-Vocational rules and hearing testimony from the Vocational Expert ("VE"), the ALJ ...


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