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Holland v. Colvin

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

July 11, 2014

LISA HOLLAND, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER

JOSEPH M. HOOD, Senior District Judge.

The plaintiff, Lisa Holland, 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 period of disability and disability insurance benefits. The Court, having reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner's decision, as it is supported by substantial evidence.

I. OVERVIEW OF THE PROCESS

In determining whether a claimant has a compensable disability under the Social Security Act, the regulations provide a five-step sequential process which the administrative law judge must follow. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(e); see Walters v. Commissioner 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 this process to prove that she is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146, n. 5 (1987). If the administrative law judge reaches the fifth step without a finding that the claimant is not disabled, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner to consider her 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. Commissioner of Social Security, 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th Cir. 1999).

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND AND THE ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

Holland filed her claim for benefits on June 30, 2010, alleging an onset date of May 25, 2009 [TR 49, 102, 112, 198]. After a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued an unfavorable decision on September 12, 2012 [TR 49-62]. At the time the ALJ rendered his decision, Holland was 47 years old. [TR 60]. She is a high school graduate and has past relevant work experience as an administrative assistant [TR 60, 73, 203]. She alleges disability due to depression, migraines, fibromyalgia, shingles, and staph [TR 103, 202].

The ALJ began his analysis by determining that Holland has met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2014 [TR 51]. At step one, the ALJ determined that Holland has not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of May 25, 2009 [TR 51]. At step two, the ALJ found that Holland suffers from the following severe impairments: chronic neck, mid-back, and low back pain secondary to degenerative disc disease of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine with multi-level disc bulges; status post discectomy and fusion of the C5/C6 vertebrae; history of staph infection of the face; history of post herpetic neuralgia or shingles; left arm radiculopathy; fibromyalgia; mild obesity; pain disorder; migraine headaches; osteoarthritis of the hips; and depression [TR 52]. Continuing on to the third step, the ALJ determined that Holland does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals in severity any of the listed impairments [TR 54]. The ALJ then determined that, based on the medically determinable evidence, Holland has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform the exertional and nonexertional requirements of sedentary work, with the following limitations: no climbing of ropes, ladders or scaffolds; occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching or crawling; occasional use of the left arm for overhead work; and no exposure to concentrated temperature extremes, excess humidity, concentrated vibration or industrial hazards. Additionally, she requires entry-level work with simple repetitive procedures, no frequent changes in work routines, and no fast-paced assembly lines or rigid production schedules [TR 55].

At the hearing the vocational expert testified that Holland would not be able to return to her past relevant work as an administrative assistant given the limitations of her RFC [TR 98]. Thus, at step four, the ALJ found that Holland is unable to perform her past relevant work [TR 60]. However, based on her RFC, age, education and experience, the vocational expert did identify other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Holland could perform [TR 98-99]. Based on ...


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