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Hill v. Colvin

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

November 20, 2013

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


KARL S. FPRESTER, Senior District Judge.

The plaintiff, Steven Edward Hill, 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 his claim for supplemental security income ("SSI"), a 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.


Hill filed his claim for SSI and DIB benefits on July 5, 2011 alleging an onset date of June 6, 2011 [TR 227, 233, 269]. After a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued an unfavorable decision on December 14, 2012 [TR 13-22]. Hill subsequently requested review by the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied Hill's request for review on April 18, 2013 [TR 1]. He has exhausted his administrative remedies and filed a timely action in this Court. This case is now ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

Based on his earnings, Hill has acquired sufficient quarters of coverage to remain insured through September 30, 2012. At the time the ALJ issued his decision, Hill was forty years old [TR 10, 269]. He has a high school education and past relevant work experience as a welder [TR 274]. Hill claims that he became disabled on June 6, 2011 due to various conditions, including a shoulder injury, heart disease, and a history of triple bypass surgery [TR 273]. According to Hill, these conditions have limited his ability to lift, climb, bend, crouch, sit or stand for long periods [TR 149].

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, he is not disabled.
(2) If the claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity, his impairment must be severe before he 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 his impairment meets or equals a listed impairment, the claimant is presumed disabled without further inquiry.
(4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him from doing past relevant work, he is not disabled.
(5) Even if the claimant's impairment does prevent him from doing his past relevant work, if other work exists in the national economy that accommodates his residual functional capacity and vocational factors (age, education, skills, etc), he is not disabled.

Id. The burden of proof is on the claimant throughout the first four steps of this process to prove that he 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 his residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience to determine if he could perform other work. If not, he 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 Hill has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of June 6, 2011 [TR 15]. At step two, the ALJ found that Hill suffers from the following severe impairments: heart failure, ischemic heart disease, and acute myocardial infarction, status post coronary artery bypass grafting; left rotator cuff tear, status post-surgical arthroscopy; and obesity [TR 15-16]. However, the ALJ concluded that Hill's back pain, minimal obstructive lung disease, and affective disorder were not severe because they did not cause more than minimal limitation on his ability to perform basic physical and mental work activities [TR 16-17].

Continuing on to the third step, the ALJ determined that these impairments or combination of impairments are not associated with clinical signs and findings that meet or equal in severity any of the listed impairments [TR 13]. See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. p, app'x 1. Specifically, the ALJ concluded that Hill's shoulder impairment did not satisfy the criteria of Listing 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint) because the listing requires involvement of one major peripheral joint in each upper extremity, and Hill only has dysfunction in his left shoulder. As to Listing 4.02 (chronic heart failure), the ALJ determined that Hill failed to show low ...

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