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Henning v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville

August 15, 2014

DEBRA L. HENNING, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND RECOMMENDATION

JAMES D. MOYER, Magistrate Judge.

The plaintiff, Debra L. Henning, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g), seeking judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, who denied her application for disability insurance. At issue is whether the administrative law judge erred when she determined that Ms. Henning retained the residual functional capacity to perform her past relevant work.

After reviewing the parties' fact and law summaries (docket nos. 11 and 13) and the administrative record (docket no. 10), the magistrate judge concludes that the ALJ erred as a matter of law, and recommends that the district court grant reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand this matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g) for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

Ms. Henning filed an application for disability insurance benefits in March 2011 and alleged she became disabled as of December 31, 2009, due to several distinct physical impairments.[1] After her application was denied by the state agency, she requested a hearing with an administrative law judge (an "ALJ").[2]

Ms. Henning's request was granted and both she, and a vocational expert, testified at a hearing held on August 28, 2012.[3] The ALJ subsequently issued an opinion in which he determined that Ms. Henning did suffer from several severe impairments, but was capable of performing light work, with certain functional limitations, which would permit her to perform her past relevant work and, accordingly, she was not disabled.[4] The Appeals Council affirmed this decision, and Ms. Henning then timely appealed to this court.

B. The Five-Step Evaluation Process

In reaching a determination regarding a claimant's disability, an ALJ is required to perform a five-step sequential evaluation process. If the ALJ is able to find that a claimant either is or is not disabled at a particular step, he must not go on to the next step. The five steps are as follows:

(1) At the first step, the ALJ consider the claimant's work activity, if any. If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled.
(2) At the second step, the ALJ consider the medical severity of the claimant's impairments. If there exists no severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment (or combination of impairments) that meets the duration requirement, the claimant is not disabled.
(3) At the third step, the ALJ also considers the medical severity of the claimant's impairments. If the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals one listed in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App 1, and meets the duration requirement, the ALJ must find that the claimant is disabled.

Before the ALJ goes from step three to step four, he must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity, which the ALJ then must use at both step four and step five when evaluating the claimant's alleged disability.

(4) At the fourth step, the ALJ must consider her assessment of the claimant's residual functional capacity and her past relevant work. If the claimant can still do her past relevant ...

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