United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville
JAIME M. SMITH, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
JAMES D. MOYER, Magistrate Judge.
The plaintiff, Jaime Smith, 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 applications for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits. Ms. Smith asserts that the administrative law judge's findings were not supported by substantial evidence and must be overturned. After reviewing the parties' fact and law summaries and the administrative record, the court finds that Ms. Smith's arguments are not persuasive. The court will affirm the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.
Ms. Smith applied for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits in October 2006, alleging she became disabled in April 2005 due to her cerebral palsy and its attendant complications (gait disturbance, learning disabilities, and inability to multi-task). After her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, Ms. Smith filed a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). The ALJ conducted a hearing and then, in April 2009, issued a decision unfavorable to Ms. Smith in which he determined, without any explanation why, that none of her impairments met or equaled a Listed Impairment. He further determined that Ms. Smith retained the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of sedentary work. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert who stated that there existed an adequate number of such jobs in the national and local economies, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Smith was not disabled as a matter of law.
Ms. Smith timely appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which affirmed the decision of the ALJ. She then timely appealed to the district court, which determined that the ALJ erred as a matter of law by performing such a cursory analysis of whether Ms. Smith's impairments met or equaled in severity any of the Listed Impairments. The court then entered an order remanding the matter to the Commissioner for an adequate evaluation of whether Ms. Smith's cerebral palsy met or equaled the medical criteria of Listing 11.07.
In March 2012, a different ALJ conducted an administrative hearing at which Ms. Smith, a vocational expert, and a medical expert testified. Ten days later, the new ALJ issued his opinion in which he determined that Ms. Smith's cerebral palsy did not meet or equal in severity Listing 11.07. The ALJ also determined that Ms. Smith was limited to no more than sedentary work, but he added additional non-exertional limitations not included by the first ALJ. Ms. Smith timely appealed that decision to the Appeals Council and then to this court.
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, she 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 and no further evaluation is necessary.
Before the ALJ goes from step three to step four, she 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 work, the ALJ must find that she is not disabled.
(5) At the fifth and last step, the ALJ must consider her assessment of the claimant's residual functional capacity and her age, education, and work experience to see if the claimant can make an adjustment to other work. A claimant who can make an adjustment to other work is not disabled, but one who cannot is disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4) and 416.920(a)(4).
In this appeal, Ms. Smith asserts that the ALJ's most recent decision, like the first, does not contain an accurate, legally-appropriate analysis of whether her cerebral palsy meets or equals a Listed Impairment. She also asserts that the ALJ improperly failed to include any limitations due to her lower back pain and fatigue when he assessed her residual functional capacity. She asks this court to remand the matter with instructions ...