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Howey v. Colvin

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

January 28, 2015

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 Sherry Lynn Howey ("Howey" or "the Claimant") and Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"). [Record Nos. 12, 13] Howey argues that the administrative law judge ("ALJ") assigned to her case erred by failing to consider her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD") as a severe impairment and that the ALJ failed to follow the administrative regulations when evaluating opinion evidence. [Record No. 12, p. 5] As a result, Howey requests remand of the ALJ's decision and an award for benefits. The Commissioner asserts that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. [Record No. 13, p. 1]

For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Commissioner's motion and deny the relief requested by Howey.


On September 21, 2010, Howey applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). [Record Nos. 9 and 10, Administrative Transcript, "Tr., " pp. 236-37] She alleged a disability beginning January 5, 2008. Howey's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration by the Social Security Administration ("SSA"). [Tr., pp. 159-79] Howey, along with attorney Rodney Davis and vocational expert Linda Taber, appeared before ALJ Greg Holsclaw on February 14, 2012, for an administrative hearing. [Tr., p. 104] On March 14, 2012, ALJ Holsclaw found that Howey was not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Act. [Tr., pp. 92-100] Howey filed an appeal with the SSA's Appeals Council. However, this appeal was denied on October 17, 2013. [Tr., pp. 1-4]

Howey was 44 years old when her alleged disability began on January 5, 2008, and 48 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. [Tr., p. 99] She has a high school education and has previously worked as an assistant manager at Warner Hallmark Store. [Tr., p. 95, 99] Howey contends that she is unable to work due to disabling conditions arising from diabetes, diabetic neuropathy, COPD, and diabetic retinopathy. [Tr., p. 95; Record No. 12, p. 3] After considering the testimony presented at the administrative hearing and reviewing the record, the ALJ concluded that Howey suffers from the following severe impairments: diabetes with retinopathy, a history of cataracts corrected by surgery, and diabetic neuropathy affecting her hands and feet. [Tr., pp. 94-96] Notwithstanding these impairments, the ALJ determined that Howey maintained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform less than a full range of sedentary work, subject to the following limitations:

[Howey] is limited to tasks with no lifting/carrying more than 10 pounds occasionally; no standing/walking for more than two hours out of an 8-hour workday, or for more than 30 minutes at one time; no sitting for more than six hours out of an 8-hour workday; unlimited pushing or pulling up to the exertional limitations; no more than occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, or climbing of ramps or stairs, but no climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds; no work that requires more than occasional operation of foot pedals; no more than frequent fine fingering or gross manipulation bilaterally; no work in areas of concentrated bright light or loud sounds; no work that requires more than occasional fine visual acuity; and no requirement for reading unless it can be done by a light provided at the workstation.

[Tr., p. 97]

After considering Howey's age, education, work experience, and RFC, and based upon vocational expert Taber's testimony, the ALJ determined that there were a significant number of jobs in the national economy that she could perform, including order clerk and dispatcher. [Tr., pp. 99-100] As a result, the ALJ found that Howey was not disabled from January 5, 2008, through the date of the ALJ's decision. [Tr., p. 100]


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 he 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 he 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, he 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 he can perform his past work. If he can, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f).

Under the fifth step of the analysis, if the claimant's impairment prevents him from doing past work, the Commissioner will consider his RFC, age, education, and past work experience to determine whether he can perform other work. If he 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. ...

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