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Keith v. Colvin

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

February 26, 2014

JOYCE A. KEITH, Plaintiff,
v.
CARYLON W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND RECOMMENDATION

JAMES D. MOYER, Magistrate Judge.

The plaintiff, Joyce A. Keith, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g), seeking judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, who denied her application for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits (docket no. 1). At issue is whether the administrative law judge erred (1) by determining that Ms. Keith's mental health problems did not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment and (2) by determining that she retained the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work with significant restrictions, in spite of her physical impairments. After reviewing the parties' submissions (docket nos. 12 and 13) and the administrative record (docket no. 10), the magistrate judge recommends that the district court affirm the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Ms. Keith applied for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits in February 2010 and alleged she became disabled as of June 1, 2003.[1] After her application was denied initially and on reconsideration, Ms. Keith filed a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). The ALJ conducted the hearing in October 2010[2] and on June 30, 2011, issued a decision unfavorable to Ms. Keith in which he determined that none of her impairments met or equaled a Listed Impairment and that she retained the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work with a sit-stand option and several other exertional and non-exertional restrictions.[3]

Ms. Keith timely appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which affirmed the decision of the ALJ.[4] She then timely appealed to this court, generally asserting that the ALJ erred when he determined that Ms. Keith's mental health conditions (specifically her depression and anxiety) and her physical impairments did not prevent her from working, and arguing more specifically that the ALJ erred by giving greater weight to the opinions of record-reviewing consultants than her treating professionals and by rejecting the probative value of her Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) Scores.

II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

In reviewing the ALJ's decision to deny disability benefits, the court may not try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of credibility. Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir.1994). Instead, judicial review of the ALJ's decision is limited to an inquiry into whether the ALJ's findings were supported by substantial evidence, see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Foster v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 279 F.3d 348, 353 (6th Cir.2001), and whether the ALJ employed the proper legal standards in reaching his conclusion. Landsaw v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th Cir.1986).

The Five-Step Evaluation Process

In reaching a determination regarding a claimant's disability, an ALJ is required to perform a five-step sequential evaluation process. If the ALJ is able to find that a claimant either is or is not disabled at a particular step, he must not go on to the next step. The five steps are as follows:[5]

(1) Step one: the ALJ evaluates the claimant's work activity, if any. If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled.
(2) Step two: the ALJ considers the medical severity of the claimant's impairments. If there exists no severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment (or combination of impairments) that meets the duration requirement, the claimant is not disabled.
(3) Step three: the ALJ also considers whether the claimant has an impairment (or combination of impairments) that meets or equals one listed in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App 1, and meets the duration requirement. If so, the ALJ must find that the claimant is disabled.

Before the ALJ goes from step three to step four, he must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity, which the ALJ then must use at both step four and step five when evaluating the claimant's alleged disability.

(4) Step four: the ALJ must consider his assessment of the claimant's residual functional capacity and his past relevant work. If the claimant can still do his past relevant work, the ALJ must find that he is not disabled.
(5) Step five: the ALJ must consider the claimant's residual functional capacity and his age, education, and work experience to see if the claimant can make an adjustment to other work. A claimant who can make an adjustment to other work is not disabled, but one who cannot is disabled.

Ms. Keith asserts that the ALJ erred primarily at step three by finding that she did not meet the criteria for Listings 12.04 and 12.06, and at step five by determining that she had the residual ...


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