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Campbell v. Colvin

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

October 21, 2014

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 Patricia Campbell and Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"). [Record Nos. 16, 17] Campbell has also filed a separate motion to remand. [Record No. 13] Campbell argues that the administrative law judge ("ALJ") assigned to her case erred in finding that she is not entitled to a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act ("Act"). She seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and remand for an award of benefits based on the ALJ's alleged failure give proper weight to a prior disability determination. Drummond v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 126 F.3d 837 (6th Cir. 1997). For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Commissioner's motion and deny the relief requested by Campbell.


A. The 2012 Determination

On August 31, 2010, Campbell filed an application for DIB, alleging a disability beginning July 15, 2010. [Record No. 9-1, Administrative Transcript, "Tr., " at pp. 19, 215-16] Her claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr., p. 19] Campbell, along with her attorney Stephen Calvert, appeared before ALJ Ronald Kayser on August 4, 2011, for an administrative hearing. A supplemental hearing was held on March 15, 2012. [Tr., pp. 19, 33-91] An impartial medical expert ("IME") James M. Hayes, M.D. and vocational expert ("VE") Tina Stambaugh, also testified. [Tr., p. 19] In a decision dated May 5, 2012, ALJ Kayser found that Campbell was not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Act. [Tr., pp. 19-28]

Campbell was 47 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. [Tr., p. 215] She has a 12th grade high school education and has previously worked as a parts inspector, residential worker, telephone operator, factory worker, and daycare worker. [Tr. 236, 243-50] Campbell alleges that she is no longer able to work due to arthritis, high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and nerve damage in her feet. [ See Tr., p. 235]

After reviewing the record and considering the testimony presented during the administrative hearing, the ALJ concluded that Campbell had severe impairments of "inflammatory arthritis, reflex sympathetic dystrophy of the right upper extremity, morbid obesity, and diabetes mellitus with neuropathy in the feet." [Tr., p. 21] However, the ALJ determined that the Claimant retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a reduced range of light work. [Tr., pp. 22-23] Specifically, the ALJ found that Campbell required "a sit/stand option allowing her to move about the work station every 35 minutes to an hour, " that she was "limited as to pushing and pulling with the upper extremities and is limited to no climbing of ropes, scaffolds, and ladders, and no more than occasional crawling and climbing of ramps and stairs, " and that she "has limitations as to exposure to extreme cold, whole body vibration, concentrated wetness, hazardous machinery, and dangerous heights." [Tr., pp. 22-23] Based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ found Campbell able to perform her past relevant work as a telephone operator and inspector. [Tr., p. 26] In an alternative finding, again based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ found there were other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that the Claimant could perform. [Tr., pp. 26-27]. Accordingly, the ALJ found Campbell not disabled from July 15, 2010, through the date of his decision. [Tr., p. 28]

B. 2010 Determination

Campbell had filed an earlier application for a period of Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits on September 3, 2008, claiming that she was disabled from March 18, 2008. [Tr., p. 96] Following an administrative hearing, the ALJ determined that Campbell was disabled from March 18, 2008 to March 1, 2010, but not thereafter.[1] [Tr., p. 104] As of March 1, 2010, Campbell had returned to full-time work. [Tr., p. 104] During this period of disability, Campbell had severe impairments of: (i) reflex sympathetic dystrophy and ulnar neuropathy of the right upper extremity; (ii) rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis; (iii) poorly-controlled versus a history of uncontrolled hypertension; (iv) massive, morbid obesity; (v) uncontrolled versus poorly-controlled non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus; (vi) fatigue, rule out chronic fatigue; and (vii) a history of a "synovial cyst in the left popliteal space" (left lower extremity). [Tr., p. 100-01] Between March 18, 2008 and February 28, 2010, the ALJ assessed Campbell as having the RFC to perform "a significantly compromised range of sedentary work." [Tr., p. 101] ALJ Francis determined that Plaintiff experienced medical improvement as of March 1, 2010, as that was the date that she was considered to be engaging in substantial gainful activity. [Tr., p. 104] ALJ Francis's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955, 404.981, 422.210(a).


Under the Social Security 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).

A claimant must first 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 her 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, 785 (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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