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Higgs v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland

April 23, 2014

CANDICE HIGGS, Plaintif,
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 Candice Higgs filed her applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) on October 6, 2009, alleging a disability onset date of November 1, 2008. (Tr. 179-186). Plaintiff's claims were denied initially (Tr. 61, 62) and on reconsideration (Tr. 64, 65). On August 29, 2011, Administrative Law Judge Troy Patterson held a hearing at Plaintiff's request. (Tr. 27-42). On November 1, 2011, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's claims for benefits. (Tr. 12-21). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on April 6, 2013. (Tr. 1-3).

Plaintiff filed the instant action on May 14, 2013. This action has culminated in cross-motions for summary judgment (Docs. # 10 and 11), which are ripe for review.

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. 14). At Step 2, the ALJ found Plaintiff's seizure disorder, tenosynovitis, major depression, anxiety, and panic disorders 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 that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 14-61).

At Step 4, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform medium work with the exception that she avoid unprotected heights and dangerous machinery, and with the following limitations:

She is limited to no production rate pace work. In addition, she can only engage in occasional interpersonal superficial contact with coworkers and the public. Furthermore, she is limited to only occasional routine changes in the work setting. Moreover, she is ...

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