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Rivera v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

February 14, 2014

RHONDA RIVERA, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN 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 Rhonda Rivera filed her current applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, alleging disability as of September 15, 2007. (Tr. 176-83). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 62-65). On September 7, 2011, Administrative Law Judge Gloria B. York conducted an administrative hearing at Plaintiff's request. (Tr. 104-06 and 125-42). On October 27, 2011, ALJ York ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 7-27). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on February 13, 2013. (Tr. 1-6).

On April 12, 2013, Plaintiff filed the instant action. (Doc. #1). The matter has culminated in cross motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for review. (Docs. #10 and 11).

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. Sec'y 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 Soc. Sec., 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 Soc. Sec., 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. 13). At Step 2, the ALJ found Plaintiff's fibromyalgia with diagnosed psoriatic arthritis, obesity, low back pain with degenerative disc disease, plantar fasciitis, mood disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder 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 reaching this conclusion, the ALJ first noted that Plaintiff's inflammatory arthritis/fibromyalgia does not meet the requirements of Listing 14.09 (inflammatory arthritis) because there was no medical evidence to suggest that she suffered from "persistent inflammation or deformity of one or more major peripheral weight-bearing or upper extremity joints, resulting in the inability to effectively ambulate or effectively perform fine/gross movements." ( Id. ). The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff's back pain does not meet the requirements of Listing 1.04 (disorders of the spine) because MRIs suggest that she suffers from only minimal degeneration, rather than a "spinal disorder resulting in the compromise of a nerve root or the spinal cord, with either nerve root compression, spinal arachnoiditis, or lumbar spinal stenosis resulting in pseudoclaudication." ( Id. ). Plaintiff's plantar fasciitis failed to meet the requirements of Listing 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint) because that listing requires major dysfunction of a joint, generally resulting in an inability to ambulate effectively without use of a hand-held assistive device. ( Id. ). Although obesity has been deleted from the listing of impairments, the ALJ "considered the claimant's obesity and the combined effect of her impairments, " and concluded that "while the claimant's obesity may increase the severity of coexisting and related impairments, the evidence does not establish presumptive disability." (Tr. 14). Finally, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had only moderate limitation in social function and concentration, persistence and pace, which is insufficient to satisfy the requirements of Listing 12.04 (affective disorders) or 12.06 (anxiety-related disorders). (Tr. 15).

At Step 4, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a limited range of light and sedentary work. (Tr. 15). Plaintiff can not only lift and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, she can stand, sit and walk six hours out of an eight hour day. ( Id. ). However, Plaintiff is limited to routine, repetitive tasks that require "only occasional interaction with supervisors and co-workers and no interaction with the general public in a low stress work environment." ( Id. ). The ALJ did not consider transferability of job skills because Plaintiff did not have past relevant work experience. (Tr. 19).

Accordingly, the ALJ proceeded to the final step of the sequential evaluation. At Step 5, the ALJ found that there were a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 20). The ALJ based this conclusion on testimony from a vocational expert (VE), in response to a hypothetical question assuming an individual of Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC. ( Id. ). The VE testified that a hypothetical individual with Plaintiff's vocational profile and RFC could find work at the light exertion level as a as a bench assembler (6, 600 jobs in Kentucky/317, 000 nationally) or packager/sorter (6, 900 in Kentucky/424, 000 nationally). ( Id. ). The VE further opined that Plaintiff could find sedentary work as a packager/sorter (1, 100 in Kentucky/74, 000 nationally) or a bench assembler (980 in Kentucky/53, 500 nationally). ( Id. ). Based on the testimony of the VE and Plaintiff's ...


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