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Angel v. Colvin

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

May 29, 2014

ANGELA M. ANGEL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.

This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Angela M. Angel ("Angel" or "the Claimant") and Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"). [Record Nos. 9, 10] Angel contends that the administrative law judge ("ALJ") assigned to her case failed to identify jobs she could perform, did not consider important evidence, and inappropriately assessed her credibility. As a result, Angel seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and an award of benefits. Alternatively, she asks for remand for further consideration of her claims. The Commissioner contends that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed.

For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Commissioner's motion and deny the relief sought by Angel.

I.

On March 8, 2010, Angel applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. [ See Administrative Transcript, pp. 173-74; hereafter, "Tr."] She initially alleged a disability beginning February 1, 2004, but later changed her onset date to December 31, 2009. [Tr., pp. 173, 185, 198] Angel's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr., pp. 70-75] On January 10, 2012, a hearing was held before ALJ Karen Jackson in Lexington, Kentucky. [ Id., p. 29] Angel appeared and testified, represented by attorney Timothy Despotes. [ Id. ] A vocational expert ("VE"), Betty Hale, also testified at the hearing. [ Id. ]

Angel was forty-two years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. [ Id., p. 34] She has a GED and some college coursework. [ Id., pp. 35, 186] Angel was employed previously as an administrative assistant and child care worker. [ Id., pp. 35-36, 187] Angel claimed to be disabled due to carpal tunnel syndrome, nerve-damaged arms, and depression at the time she filed for benefits in 2010. [ Id., p. 185] After reviewing the record and testimony presented during the administrative hearing, the ALJ concluded that Angel suffered from the severe impairments of carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger (thumb) repair, bursitis/arthritis of the acromioclavicular joint, back pain secondary to grade one spondylolisthesis, degenerative joint disease, obesity, adjustment disorder/dysthymic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. [ Id., p. 14]

Notwithstanding her impairments, the ALJ determined that Angel maintained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform less than the full range of sedentary work, subject to the following limitations:

[Angel] can lift or carry 20 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently; stand or walk for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, 2 hours at a time; sit 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, 2 hours at a time; frequently reach overhead; occasionally handle, finger, feel and push or pull with right hand; occasionally handle, finger, feel and push or pull with left hand; frequently operate foot pedal controls with bilateral feet; occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; avoid hazards; avoid vibratory hand tools and full-body vibration and temperature extremes; simple repetitive work tasks. [Angel] can maintain attention and concentration for 2-hour segments during an 8-hour workday. She is able to adapt to gradual changes in a routine work environment. She requires an object focused work environment in which contact with the general public, coworkers and supervisors is casual and occasional, and there is no requirement for fast-paced production quotas or goals.

[ Id., p. 16]

Based on the testimony of VE Hale, the ALJ determined that Angel could not perform past relevant work. [ Id., p. 21] However, after considering her age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that she could perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, such as non-hazardous security/surveillance monitor and gate guard. [ Id., p. 22] Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded that Angel was not disabled under the Social Security Act.

II.

Under the Social Security Act, a "disability" is defined as "the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity' because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment of at least one year's expected duration." Cruse v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 502 F.3d 532, 539 (6th Cir. 2007). A claimant's Social Security disability determination is made by an ALJ in accordance with "a five-step sequential evaluation process.'" Combs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 642 (6th Cir. 2006) (en banc) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)). If the claimant satisfies the first four steps of the process, the burden shifts to the Commissioner with respect to the fifth step. See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003).

First, the claimant must demonstrate that she is not engaged in substantial gainful employment at the time of the disability application. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, the claimant must show that she suffers from a severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). Third, if the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful employment and has a severe impairment which is expected to last for at least twelve months and which meets or equals a listed impairment, she will be considered disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). Fourth, if the Commissioner cannot make a determination of disability based on medical evaluations and current work activity and the claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner will then review the claimant's RFC and relevant past work to determine whether she can perform his past work. If she can, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).

Under the fifth step of the analysis, if the claimant's impairment prevents her from doing past work, the Commissioner will consider her RFC, age, education, and past work experience to determine whether she can perform other work. If she cannot perform other work, the Commissioner will find the claimant disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). The Commissioner has the burden of proof only on "the fifth step, proving that there is work available in the economy that the claimant can perform." White v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 312 F.Appx. 779, 785 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th Cir. 1999)).

Judicial review of the denial of a claim for Social Security benefits is limited to determining whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 247 (6th Cir. 2007). The substantial evidence standard presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which decision makers can go either way, without interference from the court. McClanahan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might ...


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