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Hibbard v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

January 31, 2014

ZOLA HIBBARD, Plaintiff
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DAVID L. BUNNING, District Judge.

Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g) to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Court, having reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner's decision, as it is supported by substantial evidence.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff Zola Hibbard filed her current applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) payments, alleging disability as of April 21, 2009. (Tr. 176-82). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 100-07). At Plaintiff's request, Administrative Law Judge Andrew J. Chwalibog conducted an administrative hearing on October 18, 2011. (Tr. 111-12 and 120). After the hearing, ALJ Chwalibog sent a request for medical interrogatories to Dr. Ronald E. Kendrick, who responded about two weeks later. (Tr. 686-702). On March 20, 2012, a supplemental hearing took place, again at Plaintiff's request. (Tr. 27-37). ALJ Chwalibog ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits on April 23, 2012. (Tr. 7-26). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on July 1, 2013. (Tr. 1-4).

On August 30, 2013, Plaintiff filed the instant action. (Doc. # 2). The matter has culminated in cross motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for review. (Docs. # 11 and 12).

II. DISCUSSION

A. Overview of the Process

Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is restricted to determining whether it is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards. See Cutlip v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). "Substantial evidence" is defined as "more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. Courts are not to conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or make credibility determinations. See id. Rather, we are to affirm the Commissioner's decision, provided it is supported by substantial evidence, even if we might have decided the case differently. See Her v. Comm'r of Social Security, 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999).

The ALJ, in determining disability, conducts a five-step analysis. Step 1 considers whether the claimant is still performing substantial gainful activity; Step 2, whether any of the claimant's impairments are "severe"; Step 3, whether the impairments meet or equal a listing in the Listing of Impairments; Step 4, whether the claimant can still perform his past relevant work; and Step 5, whether significant numbers of other jobs exist in the national economy which the claimant can perform. As to the last step, the burden of proof shifts from the claimant to the Commissioner. See Jones v. Comm'r of Social Security, 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003); Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).

B. The ALJ's Determination

At Step 1, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (Tr. 12). At Step 2, the ALJ found Plaintiff's back pain (secondary to herniated and bulging discs in her neck and back), obesity and osteoarthritis to be severe impairments within the meaning of the regulations. ( Id. ).

At Step 3, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to an impairment listed in, 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 14). In doing so, the ALJ found that claimant's osteoarthritis and back pain do not meet the requirements of Listing 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint) or 1.04 (disorders of the spine) because "the examining and treating physician's reports show the claimant does not have [] ambulatory deficits" and "there is no evidence of nerve root compression, spinal arachnoiditis, or lumbar spinal stenosis resulting in pseudoclaudication." ( Id. ). The ALJ considered the claimant's obesity, as well as the combined effect of her impairments, but ultimately concluded that "while the claimant's obesity may increase the severity of coexisting and related impairments, the evidence does not establish presumptive disability." ( Id. )

At Step 4, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work activity, as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except that:

[the claimant] can occasionally lift 20 pounds and frequently lift 10 pounds; can sit six hours out of an eight hour day, one hour without interruption; can stand or walk for four hours out of an eight hour day, 30 minutes without interruption; only occasionally reach overhead; may frequently reach and push and pull with the upper extremities; may frequently operate foot controls; may never climb a ladder or scaffolds; may only occasionally climb a ramp or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl; must avoid all exposure to vibration and unprotected heights; may have occasional exposure to moving mechanical ...

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