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Jones v. Colvin

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

September 22, 2014

LINDA JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOSEPH M. HOOD, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon cross-motions for Summary Judgment [DE 10, 11] on Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner's denial of her application for disability insurance benefits.[1] On September 20, 2014, Plaintiff filed a response to the Commissioner's motion. [DE 12]. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's motion will be granted and Plaintiff's motion will be denied.

I. Overview of the Process and the Instant Matter

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), in determining disability, must conduct a five-step analysis:

1. An individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity is not disabled, regardless of the claimant's medical condition.
2. An individual who is working but does not have a "severe" impairment which significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities is not disabled.
3. If an individual is not working and has a severe impairment which "meets the duration requirement and is listed in appendix 1 or is equal to a listed impairment(s)", then he is disabled regardless of other factors.
4. If a decision cannot be reached based on current work activity and medical facts alone, and the claimant has a severe impairment, then the Secretary reviews the claimant's residual functional capacity and the physical and mental demands of the claimant's previous work. If the claimant is able to continue to do this previous work, then he is not disabled.
5. If the claimant cannot do any work he did in the past because of a severe impairment, then the Secretary considers his residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience to see if he can do other work. If he cannot, the claimant is disabled.

Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (1982)). "The burden of proof is on the claimant throughout the first four steps of this process to prove that he is disabled." Id. "If the analysis reaches the fifth step without a finding that the claimant is not disabled, the burden transfers to the Secretary." Id.

The ALJ determined that Mullins had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 4, 2010 [Tr. 22]. Considering step two, the ALJ found that Mullins possessed the severe impairments of cirrhosis of the liver and obesity. During step three of the analysis, the ALJ concluded that none of Mullins's impairments or combinations of impairments met the severity listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 [Tr. 23]. At step four, the ALJ determined that Mullins had a residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined by 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b). However, Mullins was limited to lifting and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; standing or walking six hours in an eight-hour workday; sitting up to six hours in an eight-hour workday; only occasional climbing of stairs or ramps; never climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds; no more than frequent stooping, kneeling, balancing, or crouching; and occasional crawling. [Tr. 25]. Based on this RFC, the ALJ found that Mullins was able to perform her past relevant work as an apartment manager. [Tr. 27]. Accordingly, he concluded, Mullins was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act.

Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence for various reasons. She contends that the ALJ erred by giving controlling weight to his own medical opinion and by relying upon the opinions of nontreating sources, which were not supported by medical evidence. Additionally, she argues that the ALJ erred in failing to consider Mullins's dyspnea and chronic fatigue and did not give good reasons for rejecting the opinions of treating healthcare providers. Finally, she argues that the ALJ was biased against Mullins based on his alleged dislike of the individual who represented Mullins at her hearing.

II. Standard of Review

In reviewing the ALJ's decision to deny disability benefits, the Court may "not try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of credibility." Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). Instead, judicial review of the ALJ's decision is limited to an inquiry into whether the ALJ's findings were supported by substantial evidence, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 353 (6th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted), and whether the ALJ employed the proper legal standards in reaching his conclusion. See Landsaw v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th Cir. 1986). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla of ...


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