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Hood v. Colvin

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

September 11, 2013

JOANNA H. HOOD, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER

KARL S. FORESTER, Senior District Judge.

The plaintiff, Joanna H. Hood, 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 period of disability, and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") based on disability. The Court, having reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner's decision, as it is supported by substantial evidence.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Hood filed her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on November 6, 2001, alleging an onset date of January 29, 2000 [TR 75-86, 88, 98]. Her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration [TR 33-34, 42-45, 48-49]. After a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on September 14, 2004, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on April 18, 2005 [TR 15-24]. Hood subsequently requested review by the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied her request for review on March 3, 2006 [TR 5-7].

Hood then filed suit in the Southern District of West Virginia, and the case was remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings [TR 681-87]. On September 15, 2010, the Appeals Council issued a remand order and a new hearing was held by an ALJ on October 18, 2011 [TR 1254-1300]. An unfavorable decision was issued by the ALJ on November 23, 2011 [TR 666-79], and the Appeals Council declined to accept jurisdiction on May 8, 2012. Hood then appealed to this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

Based on her earnings, Hood has acquired sufficient quarters of coverage to remain insured through December 31, 2004 [TR 79, 86]. As of the time she applied for DIB, Hood was forty-two years old [TR 75]. She has a high school education and past relevant work experience as a telephone sales person/operator [TR 99]. Hood claims that she became disabled on January 29, 2000 due to various conditions including nerves, irritable bowel syndrome, and back and shoulder problems [TR 75, 98].

In determining whether a claimant has a compensable disability under the Social Security Act, the regulations provide a five-step sequential process which the administrative law judge ("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 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 at step one by determining that Hood has not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of January 29, 2000 through her date last insured of December 31, 2004 [TR 671]. At step two, the ALJ found that Hood suffers from the following severe impairments: irritable bowel syndrome and substance abuse disorder [TR 671]. Continuing on to the third step, the ALJ determined that these impairments or combination of ...


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