United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division at Frankfort
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.
This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Kathleen Marie Martin (hereafter, "Martin" or "the Claimant") and Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"). [Record Nos. 8, 9] Martin 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. The Commissioner asserts that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Commissioner's motion and deny the relief requested by Martin.
On August 24, 2011, Martin filed an application for DIB alleging a disability beginning May 1, 2009. [Record No. 6-1, Administrative Transcript, "Tr., " at p. 96] Martin's claims were initially denied. Martin, along with her attorney at the time, Jonathan Mallin, and vocational expert ("VE") Zachary Matthews appeared before ALJ Henry Perez, Jr. on September 11, 2012, for an administrative hearing. [Tr., p. 13] In a decision dated October 23, 2012, ALJ Perez found that Martin was not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Act. [Tr., pp. 13-21]
Martin was 38 years old when her alleged disability began on May 1, 2009, and 42 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. [Tr., pp. 10, 96] Martin completed two years of college and previously worked as a mortgage and real estate processor. [Tr., p. 114] She alleges that she is unable to work due to fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, back and neck pain, depression, and anxiety. [ See Tr., p. 113; Record No. 8-1, p. 3]
After reviewing the record and considering the testimony presented during the administrative hearing, the ALJ concluded that Martin suffers from medically determinable impairments of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, back and neck pain, temporomandibular joint disorder ("TMJ"), hypothyroidism, depression, and anxiety. [Tr., p. 15, Finding No. 3]. None of these impairments, however, qualified as severe impairments because they did not significantly limited her ability to perform basic work activities. [Tr., pp. 15-21, Finding No. 4] As a result, the ALJ determined that Martin was not disabled from May 1, 2009, through October 23, 2012, the date of the administrative decision. [Tr., p. 22, Finding No. 5]
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). Second, the claimant must show that she suffers from a severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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). 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).
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). 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 accept as sufficient to support the conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007).
If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed even if the Court would decide the case differently and even if the claimant's position is also supported by substantial evidence. Smith v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 482 F.3d 873, 876 (6th Cir. 2007); Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007); Longworth v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005); Casey v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993). In other words, the Commissioner's findings are conclusive if they are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Martin's motion to reverse or remand the Commissioner's decision relies on three separate but interrelated issues. She argues that the ALJ erred by: (i) finding that she did not have a severe impairment, particularly that her fibromyalgia was not a severe impairment; (ii) discounting her ...