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McIntosh v. Colvin

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

August 19, 2014

WANDA MCINTOSH, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

KAREN K. CALDWELL, Chief District Judge.

The plaintiff, Wanda McIntosh, 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 a 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.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Wanda McIntosh filed her claim for benefits on February 24, 2011, alleging a disability beginning October 28, 2010. Her claims were initially denied on June 9, 2011, and upon reconsideration on August 9, 2011. McIntosh then filed a written request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). After the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable opinion on July 6, 2012. (AR 10).

At the time of the alleged onset of disability, McIntosh was 46 years old with a high school education. In her disability report filed to obtain benefits, she claims to be disabled due to a degenerating disc in her back, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, arthritis, a bulging disc in her back, high blood pressure, nervousness, anxiety, hearing problems, and memory loss. (AR 192).

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 his 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 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 through 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 substantial gainful activity since October 28, 2010, the alleged onset date. (AR 15). At step two, the ALJ determined that McIntosh suffers from the following severe impairments: chronic low back pain secondary to degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with a disc protrusion at the L5/S1 level; a history of polysubstance abuse, allegedly in remission; facet arthropathy of the thoracic and lumbar spines; an anxiety disorder with post traumatic stress disorder features; a mild hearing loss; and borderline intellectual functioning. (AR 16). In the third step, ...


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