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Anderson v. Colvin

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

March 21, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



Plaintiff Faye Ann Anderson brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for supplemental security income. The Court, having reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner's decision, as it is supported by substantial evidence.


Anderson filed her claim for benefits on December 1, 2010, alleging an onset date of October 5, 2008. (AR 54). Her claim was initially denied on March 18, 2011, and again on June 6, 2011. (AR 54). Anderson then filed a written request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (AR 54). After the hearing, on September 10, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision.

At the time of the alleged onset of disability, Anderson was forty-eight, and at the time of her application, hearing, and the rendering of the ALJ decision, Anderson was fifty years old or older. (AR 65). She has an eighth grade education, and has a past work experience of being a nurse's aide for the elderly, a food preparation worker, housekeeper, court receptionist, and hotel maid. (AR 80, 92). She claims that she became disabled on October 5, 2008. Anderson explained her medical problems by saying, "I get spasm in the lower part of my back. I got scoliosis in my neck, I'm right-handed, I got carpel in my right hand, in my wrist and the pain shoots up my arm. And then I got a bone pressing against the nerve in my arm, in my right arm. And I broke my heel several years ago back and I have a lot of problems out of my heel, walking and stuff like that." (AR 84). Anderson also maintains that she has mental health problems and a learning disability. (AR 81, 83, 90).

In determining whether a claimant has a compensable disability under the Social Security Act (the "Act"), the regulations provide a five-step sequential process which the ALJ must follow. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(e); see Walters v. Comm'r of Social Security, 127 F.3d 525, 529 (6th Cir. 1997). The five steps, in summary, are as follows:

(1) If the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled.
(2) If the claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity, her impairment must be severe before she can be found disabled.
(3) If the claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity and is suffering from a severe impairment that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and her impairment meets or equals a listed impairment, the claimant is presumed disabled without further inquiry.
(4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent her from doing past relevant work, she is not disabled.
(5) Even if the claimant's impairment does prevent her from doing her past relevant work, if other work exists in the national economy that accommodates her residual functional capacity and vocational factors (age, education, skills, etc.), she is not disabled.

Id. The burden of proof is on the claimant throughout the first four steps of the process to prove that she is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146, n. 5 (1987). If the ALJ reaches the fifth step without finding that the claimant is not disabled, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner to consider the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience to determine if she could perform other work. If not, she would be deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. 404, 1520(f). Importantly, the Commissioner only has the burden of proof on "the fifth step, proving that there is work available in the economy that the claimant can perform." Her v. Comm'r of Social Security, 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th Cir. 1999).

In this case, the ALJ began his analysis at step one by determining that the claimant has not engaged in gainful activity since December 1, 2010, the application date. (R 56). At step two, the ALJ determined that Anderson suffers from the following severe impairments: scoliosis of the cervical and lumbar spines; cervical strain; history of left calcaneus fracture; obesity; tendinosis of the right shoulder; borderline intellectual functioning; major depressive disorder; generalized anxiety disorder; and pain disorder. (AR 56). In the third step, the ALJ found that the claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. (AR 59).

At step four, the ALJ found that based on the medically determinable evidence, Anderson has the residual function capacity ("RFC") to perform less than a full range of medium work. "She can occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, stoop, and crouch. She can frequently climb ramps or stairs. She can frequently reach with the right, dominant upper extremity. She can occasionally reach overhead with the right upper extremity. She is limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks; can only work in a low-stress ...

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