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Hall v. Colvin

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

July 16, 2014

BENDA MAE HALL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM, OPINION, & ORDER

KAREN K. CALDWELL, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Benda Mae Hall 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 supplemental security income. The Court, having reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner's decision, as it is supported by substantial evidence.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Hall filed her claim for benefits on August 16, 2007. (DE 10-1, p. 2). Her claim was initially denied and denied again on reconsideration. (DE 11, p. 1-2). Hall then filed a written request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (DE 10-1, p.2). After the hearing, on February 17, 2009, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (DE 11, p. 2). Hall appealed the ALJ's decision, and the Appeals Council ("AC") granted Hall's request for review, vacated the hearing decision, and remanded the case back to the ALJ. (DE 11, p. 2). After a supplemental hearing on December 7, 2011, the ALJ issued another unfavorable decision. (DE 11, p.2). The AC denied Hall's subsequent request for review. (DE 11, p. 2).

At the time the ALJ issued his opinion on January, 12, 2012, Hall was forty-seven years old. (DE 11, p.2). She has not worked in the past fifteen years, but has been employed as a nursing assistant previously. She alleges she became disabled on August 21, 2007. (DE 11, p. 2).

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

In this case, the ALJ began his analysis at step one by determining that the claimant has not engaged in gainful activity since August 21, 2007, the application date. (AR 19). At step two, the ALJ determined that Hall suffers from the following severe impairments: chronic low back pain secondary to degenerative disc disease of the thoracic and lumbar spine, status post L3-L4 discectomy, and history of T8 and T12 compression fractures; degenerative changes of the left hip; status post left shoulder rotator cuff debridement; and status post right wrist fracture with open reduction and internal fixation. (AR 19). In the third step, the ALJ found that the claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. (AR 20).

At step four, the ALJ found that based on the medically determinable evidence, Hall has the residual function capacity ("RFC") to perform a wide range of light and sedentary work, lifting and carrying up to twenty pounds occasionally, ten pounds frequently, with sitting, standing and walking up to six hours each in an eight hour day. The ALJ further found that Hall requires a sit/stand option with no prolonged standing or walking in excess of forty-five minutes to one hour without interruption. She cannot climb ropes, ladders, and scaffolds or work in exposure to concentrated vibration. She is limited to no more than occasional climbing of stairs and ramps. She cannot crawl, stoop, crouch, kneel, or operate foot pedal control with her left leg and is limited to no more than occasional flexion ...


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