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Moore v. Colvin

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

October 30, 2013

TAMMY MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOSEPH M. HOOD, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon cross-motions for Summary Judgment [D.E. 12, 14] on Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner's denial of her application for disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). [Tr. 10-23].[1] The Court, having reviewed the record and being otherwise sufficiently advised, will deny Plaintiff's motion[2] and grant Defendant's motion.

I. Overview of the Process and the Instant Matter The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), in determining disability, conducts a five-step analysis:

1. An individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity is not disabled, regardless of the claimant's medical condition.

2. An individual who is working but does not have a "severe" impairment which significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities is not disabled.

3. If an individual is not working and has a severe impairment which "meets the duration requirement and is listed in appendix 1 or is equal to a listed impairment(s)", then he is disabled regardless of other factors.

4. If a decision cannot be reached based on current work activity and medical facts alone, and the claimant has a severe impairment, then the Secretary reviews the claimant's residual functional capacity and the physical and mental demands of the claimant's previous work. If the claimant is able to continue to do this previous work, then he is not disabled.

5. If the claimant cannot do any work he did in the past because of a severe impairment, then the Secretary considers his residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience to see if he can do other work. If he cannot, the claimant is disabled.

Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (1982)). "The burden of proof is on the claimant throughout the first four steps of this process to prove that he is disabled." Id. "If the analysis reaches the fifth step without a finding that the claimant is not disabled, the burden transfers to the Secretary." Id.

In the instant matter, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the relevant time period under step one. [Tr. 16]. Under step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments of obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease with restrictive lung disease, and obstructive sleep apnea were "severe" as defined by the agency's regulations. [Tr. 16]; 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). The ALJ further found that Plaintiff's knee pain, low back pain, and alcohol abuse in remission were "non-severe" impairments. [Tr. 16].

During step three of the analysis, the ALJ considered all of Plaintiff's impairments and decided that none of them met the criteria listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. [Tr. 17]. After further review of the entire record, the ALJ concluded at step four that Plaintiff had a residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a limited range of light and sedentary work, but that she was unable to perform her past relevant work. [Tr. 17, 21]. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff required a clean air environment and could not be exposed to respiratory irritants. [Tr. 17]. Thus, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security Act. [Tr. 23].

In this appeal, Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, that the ALJ gave improper controlling weight to non-examining state agency physicians, and that the ALJ failed to give controlling weight to Plaintiff's treating physicians. Specifically, Plaintiff argues (1) that the ALJ relied on unfounded inconsistencies in Plaintiff's sworn testimony to make an adverse credibility assessment; (2) the ALJ improperly gave controlling weight to non-examining state agency physicians who failed to review all the relevant medical evidence and disregarded well-documented physical treating sources; and (3) the ALJ failed to provide good reasons for not giving controlling weight to Plaintiff's treating physicians, and, thus, violated the "treating physician rule."

II. Standard of Review

In reviewing the ALJ's decision to deny disability benefits, the Court may "not try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of credibility." Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). Instead, judicial review of the ALJ's decision is limited to an inquiry into whether the ALJ's findings were supported by substantial evidence, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 353 (6th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted), and whether the ALJ employed the proper legal standards in reaching her conclusion. See Landsaw v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th Cir. 1986). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla of ...


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