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McClain v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland

August 19, 2014

CHRISTINA FAYE McCLAIN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER

KAREN K. CALDWELL, Chief District Judge.

The plaintiff, Christina Faye McClain, 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 Social Security benefits. The Court, having reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner's decision, as it is supported by substantial evidence and was decided by proper legal standards.

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 evaluation 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 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).

The decision of the Commissioner must be supported by substantial evidence. Varley v. Secretary of Health and Human Servs., 820 F.2d 777, 779 (6th Cir. 1987). Once the decision of the Commissioner is final, an appeal may be taken to the United States District Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is restricted to determining whether it is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to the proper legal standards. See Cutlip v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). "Substantial evidence" is defined as "more than a mere scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. In reviewing the decision of the Commissioner, courts are not to conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or make credibility determinations. See id. Rather, the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision so long as it is supported by substantial evidence, even if the Court might have decided the case differently. See Her, 203 F.3d at 389-90. However, the court must review the record as a whole, and must take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight. Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984).

II. THE ADMINISTRATIVE PROCESS

McClain filed her claims for period of disability and disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income on June 30, 2010 [TR 161-66, 167-73]. She claims that she became disabled and unable to work on January 15, 2009 due to chronic pain in her hip, back and knees; obesity; urinary frequency status post two bladder surgeries; vision impairment; epilepsy; a history of pulmonary embolism; and mental limitations due to anxiety, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder following childhood abuse, family conflict, and a home burglary [TR 210-11, 257-65]. McClain is a college graduate with past relevant work as a cashier, food preparation worker, certified nursing assistance, dorm cleaner, and library assistant [TR 45-46]. On the onset date of her alleged disability, McClain was thirty-eight years old [TR 147].

Her initial claim was denied, and McClain subsequently requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") [TR 112, 115]. A hearing was held on August 16, 2012 [TR 34-50]. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from McClain and the vocational expert ("VE") Anthony Michael. After considering all the evidence in the administrative record, including the testimony of ...


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