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Adams v. Colvin

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

August 25, 2014

LINDA L. ADAMS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.

This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Linda L. Adams and Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security. [Record Nos. 11, 13] Adams contends that the administrative law judge ("ALJ") erred in finding that she is not entitled to a period of disability, Supplemental Security Income, and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act ("Act"). She seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and an award of benefits. The Commissioner asserts that the ALJ's decision was proper and should be affirmed. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment. Adams' motion will be denied.


On March 14, 2011, Adams applied for child's Supplemental Security Income, DIB, and Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Act. [ See Administrative Transcript, pp. 76, 235-45; hereafter, "Tr."] However, her claim for DIB was denied on March 26, 2011, because she had not earned a sufficient amount of work credits to qualify for the benefits. [Tr., pp. 76, 246-48] She alleges a disability beginning on November 1, 2010. [Tr., pp. 76, 235] Her applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr., pp. 162-75]

Adams, along with her attorney Rodney Davis and impartial vocational expert ("VE") Linda Taber, appeared before ALJ Ronald M. Kayser, on August 30, 2012, for an administrative hearing. [Tr., p. 90] Adams was twenty-one years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. She has an associate's degree and, at the time of the ALJ's decision, was enrolled in a full-time college program obtaining a bachelor's degree. [Tr., pp. 94-95] She has previously worked parttime as a secretary clerk, receptionist, and waitress. [Tr., pp. 95-98, 281]

Adams claims to be disabled due to post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), anxiety, depression, insomnia, panic attacks, borderline personality disorder, and somatoform disorder. [Tr., pp. 299, 328] After reviewing the record and testimony presented during the administrative hearing, ALJ Kayser concluded that Adams suffered from the severe impairments of affective mood disorder and anxiety disorder. [Tr., p. 78] Notwithstanding these impairments, the ALJ determined that Adams maintained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, subject to the following limitations:

[Adams] has moderate limitations on her ability to (a) maintain attention and concentration for extended period; (b) perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within customary tolerance; (c) complete a normal workday and workweek without interruption from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods; (d) interact appropriately with the general public; (e) respond appropriately to changes in the work setting; (f) travel in unfamiliar places or use public transportation; and (g) set realistic goals or make plans independently of others.

[Tr., p. 81]

ALJ Kayser determined that Adams had no past relevant work. [Tr., p. 83] And based on the VE's testimony, and after considering Adams' age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that Adams could perform other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, such as an industrial cleaner, housekeeper, and laundry worker. [Tr., p. 84] As a result of these findings, the ALJ concluded that Adams was not disabled under the Act.


Under the Act, a "disability" is defined as "the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity' because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment of at least one year's expected duration." Cruse v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 502 F.3d 532, 539 (6th Cir. 2007). A claimant's Social Security disability determination is made by an ALJ in accordance with "a five-step sequential evaluation process.'" Combs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 642 (6th Cir. 2006) (en banc) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)). If the claimant satisfies the first four steps of the process, the burden shifts to the Commissioner with respect to the fifth step. See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003).

First, the claimant must demonstrate that she is not engaged in substantial gainful employment at the time of the disability application 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). Second, the claimant must show that she suffers from a severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). Third, if the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful employment and has a severe impairment which is expected to last for at least twelve months and which meets or equals a listed impairment, she will be considered disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). Fourth, if the Commissioner cannot make a determination of disability based on medical evaluations and current work activity and the claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner will then review the claimant's RFC and relevant past work to determine whether she can perform his past work. If she can, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f).

Under the fifth step of the analysis, if the claimant's impairment prevents her from doing past work, the Commissioner will consider her RFC, age, education, and past work experience to determine whether she can perform other work. If she cannot perform other work, the Commissioner will find the claimant disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g), 416.920(g). The Commissioner has the burden of proof only on "the fifth step, proving that there is work available in the economy that the claimant can perform." White v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 312 F.Appx. 779, 784 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th Cir. 1999)).

Judicial review of the denial of a claim for Social Security benefits is limited to determining whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007). The substantial-evidence standard presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which decision makers can go either way, without interference from the court . McClanahan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might ...

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