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Mudd v. Colvin

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

December 10, 2013

TOSHA M. MUDD,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

H. BRENT BRENNESTUHL, Magistrate Judge.

BACKGROUND

Before the Court is the complaint (DN 1) of Tosha M. Mudd ("Plaintiff") seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN 11) and Defendant (DN 14) have filed a Fact and Law Summary.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties have consented to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge conducting all further proceedings in this case, including issuance of a memorandum opinion and entry of judgment, with direct review by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the event an appeal is filed (DN 13). By Order entered July 15, 2013 (DN 10), the parties were notified that oral arguments would not be held unless a written request therefor was filed and granted. No such request was filed.

FINDINGS OF FACT

Plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income payments on June 18, 2010[1] (Tr. 252, 330-336, 337-342). Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled on May 16, 2008, as a result of fibromyalgia (Tr. 359). Administrative Law Judge MaryJoan McNamara ("ALJ") conducted a video hearing on September 15, 2011 (Tr. 199, 216). The ALJ presided over the video hearing from Baltimore, Maryland, and Plaintiff appeared in Bowling Green, Kentucky, with her attorney, Gary S. Logsdon (Tr. 199). Leonard Francois, an impartial vocational expert, testified by telephone during the hearing (Tr. 199, 216).

In a decision dated October 20, 2011, the ALJ evaluated this adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 199-209). At the first step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 16, 2008, the alleged onset date (Tr. 201). At the second step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, and osteopenia are "severe" impairments within the meaning of the regulations (Tr. 201). Notably, at the second step, the ALJ also determined that Plaintiff's alleged impairments of major depressive disorder (single episode), anxiety, short term memory loss, transient ischemic attack, gastroenteritis, and scoliosis (both singly and in combination) are "nonsevere" impairments within the meaning of the regulations (Tr. 202). At the third step, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1 (Tr. 203).

At the fourth step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform less than a full range of light work (Tr. 204). The ALJ explained that Plaintiff is not able to perform a full range of light work because she would need a sit/stand, at-will work option; she should avoid all ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; she should also avoid unprotected heights as well as fumes, odor, dust, and poorly ventilated spaces; she has the ability to understand and carry out simple routine tasks; she is able to attend and concentrate as necessary to sustain a workday; she is able to interact appropriately with others; and she should probably be in a low stress work environment (Tr. 204). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work as an accounting clerk and office manager (Tr. 207).

Notably, despite finding Plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work, the ALJ made alternative findings for step five of the sequential evaluation process (Tr. 208). After considering the vocational expert's testimony as well as Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, the ALJ concluded there are other jobs in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform (Tr. 208). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a "disability, " as defined in the Social Security Act, from May 16, 2008 through the date of the decision (Tr. 209).

Plaintiff timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 15-17). The Appeals Council considered Plaintiff's arguments and additional evidence but denied her request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-6).

CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

The Social Security Act authorizes payment of Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income to persons with disabilities. 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. (Title II Disability Insurance Benefits), 1381 et seq. (Title XVI Supplemental Security Income). The term "disability" is defined as an

"[i]nability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve (12) months."

42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) (Title II), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (Title XVI); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a); Barnhart v. Walton , 535 U.S. 212, 214 (2002); Abbott v. Sullivan , 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990).

The Commissioner has promulgated regulations setting forth a five-step sequential evaluation process for evaluating a disability claim. See "Evaluation of disability in general, " 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. In summary, the evaluation proceeds as follows:

1) Is the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity?
2) Does the claimant have a medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments that satisfies the duration requirement and significantly limits his ...

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