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McQueen v. Colvin

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

April 17, 2014

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


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.


Plaintiff Junell Nicole McQueen filed her current applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, alleging disability as of December 18, 2010.[1] (Tr. 171-76). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 122-29). On July 11, 2012, Administrative Law Judge Todd Spangler conducted an administrative hearing at Plaintiff's request. (Tr. 130-41). On September 12, 2012, ALJ Spangler ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 7-22). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on September 3, 2013. (Tr. 1-5).

On October 21, 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. # 15-2 and 16).


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. 12). At Step 2, the ALJ found Plaintiff's bilateral patellofemoral syndrome with tendonitis, lumbar degenerative disc disease, hypoplastic thumbs status post surgical intervention, anxiety and pain disorder to be severe impairments. (Tr. 13).

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). As to Plaintiff's alleged physical impairments, the ALJ simply noted that "[t]he claimant did not argue conformity with a particular physical listing nor did my independent review of the record reveal sufficient medical documentation to substantiate a physical impairment of listing level severity." ( Id. ). The ALJ then 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). ( Id. ). In support of this conclusion, the ALJ pointed out that Plaintiff has lived independently for quite some time and had no documented episodes of decompensation. (Tr. 15).

At Step 4, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a limited range of light work "requiring no climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds; no more than frequent kneeling, stooping, crouching, crawling, balancing, climbing ramps and stairs, handling and fingering bilaterally; the avoidance of concentrated exposure to temperature extremes and vibration; and the accommodation of her need for a sit/stand option every hour." (Tr. 16). The ALJ also found that Plaintiff "can understand, remember, and carry[] out simple and some detailed instructions in an object focused environment." ( Id. ). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work as an assembler because such work did not require her to perform activities that are precluded by her RFC. (Tr. 21).

In the alternative, the ALJ found that there were a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 21-22). 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 ticket taker, office clerk or mail clerk (collectively 4, 100 jobs in Kentucky/382, 000 jobs nationally). ( Id. ). Based on the testimony of the VE and Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found ...

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