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Riggs v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division

February 7, 2014

ELEANOR RIGGS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

H. BRENT BRENNENSTUHL, District Judge.

BACKGROUND

Before the Court is the complaint (DN 1) of Eleanor Riggs ("Plaintiff") seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN 9) and Defendant (DN 12) have filed a Fact and Law Summary. Additionally, the Plaintiff has filed a motion for summary judgment (DN 10) and Defendant has filed a response (DN 12).

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 11). By Order entered September 3, 2013 (DN 6), 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 an application for Supplemental Security Income benefits on June 30, 2010 (Tr. 54, 155, 185). Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled on June 28, 2007, as a result of her lower back, diabetes, and rapid heart rate (Tr. 185, 211). On November 15, 2011, Administrative Law Judge Scott M. Staller ("ALJ") conducted a video hearing from Baltimore, Maryland (Tr. 9). Plaintiff appeared in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and was represented by attorney Debra L. Broz (Tr. 9, 54). Also participating and testifying was Pat Green, a vocational expert (Tr. 9, 54).

In a decision dated February 15, 2012, the ALJ evaluated this adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 54-62). At the first step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 30, 2010, the application date (Tr. 56). At the second step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, status post fracture of the sacrum, asthma, and obesity are "severe" impairments within the meaning of the regulations (Tr. 56). Notably, at the second step, the ALJ also determined that Plaintiff's hypertension, rapid heart rate, and depression are "non-severe" impairments within the meaning of the regulations (Tr. 56). 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. 57).

At the fourth step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform less than a full range of light work because she requires a job that will allow her to sit or stand alternatively, but she would not have to leave the workstation; she may only occasionally climb ramps or stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and only occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; she should avoid concentrated exposure to operational control of moving machinery and unprotected heights; and avoid all concentrated exposure to wetness, humidity, extreme cold, and extreme heat (Tr. 57). Additionally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any of her past relevant work (Tr. 60).

The ALJ proceeded to the fifth step where he considered Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience as well as testimony from the vocational expert (Tr. 60-61). The ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing a significant number of jobs that exist in the national economy (Tr. 60-61). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a "disability, " as defined in the Social Security Act, from June 30, 2010, through the date of the decision, February 15, 2012 (Tr. 61).

Plaintiff timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 7). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-3, 4).

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, ...


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