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Ray v. Colvin

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

May 5, 2014

CAROLYN SUE RAY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DAVID L. BUNNING, District Judge.

Plaintiff 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. The Court, having reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner's decision, as it is supported by substantial evidence.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Carolyn Sue Ray is a resident of Richmond, Kentucky. Though she formerly worked in a factory, Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income on November 4, 2010. (Doc. # 9, at 4). In her application for benefits, Plaintiff alleged that she suffered from knee, shoulder, and back pain, as well as other ailments. (Doc. # 7-1, at 45).

Plaintiff's application was denied initially on February 28, 2011, and after reconsideration on May 9, 2011. ( Id. At 20). Plaintiff then requested a hearing, which was held before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Don C. Paris on July 3, 2012. ( Id. ) Though ALJ Paris found that Plaintiff did suffer from some disability, he found that her disability was not so severe as to justify an award of supplemental security income. ( Id. At 27-28). Plaintiff unsuccessfully appealed to the Social Security Appeals Council, and having now exhausted her administrative remedies, she brings this appeal in federal court.

On November 21, 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. # 9 and 11).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court's review is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's decision followed proper legal standards and whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007). Under this deferential standard, courts will not substitute their judgment for that of the ALJ. Id. The Court does not resolve evidentiary conflicts or decide questions of credibility. Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). Interpretations of statutes and agency regulations are questions of law, which the Court will review de novo. Smith v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 482 F.3d 873, 876 (6th Cir. 2007).

III. ANALYSIS

A. The five-step process and the residual functional capacity

In deciding whether to award disability benefits, the ALJ must proceed through a five-step analysis. Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001). At step one, the ALJ determines whether the applicant is gainfully employed. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). At step two, the issue is whether the applicant suffers from any serious physical or mental impairments. Id. at § 1520(c). Assuming the answer is yes, the ALJ then considers whether the applicant's impairments are among those listed in Social Security regulations, such that the applicant is presumed disabled. Id. at § 1520(d).

If a claimant's impairments fail to qualify as a listed impairment under agency regulations, the ALJ must then prepare a residual functional capacity (RFC). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). This RFC is used at both steps four and five of the decision making process. Id. at § 1520(a)(4). At step four, the ALJ decides, in light of the RFC, whether the claimant can perform any past relevant work. Id. at § 1520(a)(4)(iv). If so, then the claimant is not eligible for benefits. Id. If not, the ALJ then proceeds to the fifth and final step: determining whether Plaintiff could perform alternative work that exists in sufficient numbers to preclude an award of disability benefits. Id. at § 1520(a)(4)(v). This determination is based in part on the RFC, which guides the ALJ regarding the type of work the claimant might be able to perform. Id.

There appears to be little dispute that the ALJ properly discharged his duties at the first three steps of the sequential evaluation process. The controversy arises, instead, at Steps Four and Five. At Step Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work; at Step Five, the ALJ found that even if Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work, she could perform some alternative work in the national economy. (Doc. # 7-1, at ...


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