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Asberry v. Colvin

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

October 22, 2013

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 Christie L. Asberry ("Asberry" or "the Claimant") and Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"). [Record Nos. 8, 9] Asberry argues that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in reaching his conclusion that she is not entitled to a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. She seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and an award of benefits or, in the alternative, remand of the case to the ALJ for further consideration. The Commissioner contends that the ALJ's decision was proper and should be affirmed. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment and deny the relief sought by Asberry.


On June 5, 2008, Asberry filed an application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits, alleging a disability beginning January 22, 2008. [Tr., p. 13] After the application was denied, an administrative hearing was held on November 18, 2009. Asberry appeared and testified, along with impartial vocational expert ("VE") Betty L. Hale. Asberry's attorney, Angela Patrick, also attended the hearing. On January 13, 2010, ALJ Willie Rose issued a decision, finding that Asberry was not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Act. [Tr., p. 129] Subsequently, the Appeals Council granted Asberry's request for a review of the ALJ's decision and remanded the case for further consideration. ALJ Roger L. Reynolds conducted a new hearing on August 10, 2011. The same parties appeared and testified. [Tr., p. 13] Following the second hearing, ALJ Reynolds denied Asberry's application by a decision dated September 2, 2011. [ Id. ] The Appeals Council denied Asberry's second request for review on March 20, 2013. [Tr., p. 1]

Asberry was thirty-nine years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. She has a high school education and, at the time of the second hearing, was attending Bluegrass Community College. Based upon his review the record and consideration of the testimony presented in the case, ALJ Reynolds determined that Asberry suffered from the following severe impairments:

[c]hronic neck pain secondary to degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine with disc protrusion at C6/7; status post bilateral carpal tunnel release surgeries; status post ulnar nerve transposition surgeries in the right elbow; generalized anxiety disorder with panic features.

[Tr., p. 16] However, notwithstanding those impairments, the ALJ found that Asberry had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light and sedentary work, with the additional limitations of:

lifting and carrying up to twenty pounds occasionally, ten pounds frequently, with sitting, standing and walking up to six hours each in an eight hour day, but within these parameters [] no climbing of ropes, ladders or scaffolds, occasional climbing of stairs or ramps, occasional grasping, pinching or feeling with the right dominant hand; no use of the bilateral arms for overhead work; occasional use of the upper extremities for pushing or pulling; [Asberry] requires work in an object oriented environment with only occasional and casual interaction with the general public.

[Tr., p. 18]

Given these limitations, the ALJ found that Asberry could not perform her past relevant work. However, based on the testimony of VE Hale, he concluded that she could perform other jobs in the national economy, such as a non-hazardous security monitor, information clerk, and parking lot attendant. [Tr., p. 20] After determining that Asberry could perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy, ALJ Reynolds determined that she was not disabled. Thus, Asberry's application for benefits was denied.


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). Second, the claimant must show that she suffers from a severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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). 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 her past work. If she can, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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). 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. ...

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