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Lay v. Colvin

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

February 5, 2015

AMY SUSAN LAY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

DAVID L. BUNNING, District Judge.

Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g) to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Court, having reviewed the record and for the reasons set forth herein, will affirm the Commissioner's decision, as it is supported by substantial evidence.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff Amy Lay filed an application for supplemental security income on June 10, 2011, alleging disability as of July 28, 1990.[1] (Tr. 18). Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. ( Id. ) On September 13, 2012, Administrative Law Judge Bonnie Kittinger conducted an administrative hearing at Plaintiff's request. ( Id. ) On December 21, 2012, the ALJ ruled that Plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 29). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on January 22, 2014. (Tr. 1).

On February 24, 2014, Plaintiff filed the instant action. (Doc. # 1). This matter has culminated in cross-motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for adjudication. (Docs. # 10, 11).

II. DISCUSSION

A. Overview of the Process

Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is restricted to determining whether it is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards. See Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). "Substantial evidence" is defined as "more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. Courts are not to conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or make credibility determinations. Id. Rather, we are to affirm the Commissioner's decision, provided it is supported by substantial evidence, even if we might have decided the case differently. See Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999).

The ALJ, in determining disability, conducts a five-step analysis. Step 1 considers whether the claimant is still performing substantial gainful activity; Step 2, whether any of the claimant's impairments are "severe"; Step 3, whether the impairments meet or equal a listing in the Listing of Impairments; Step 4, whether the claimant can still perform her past relevant work; and Step 5, whether significant numbers of other jobs exist in the national economy which the claimant can perform. As to the last step, the burden of proof shifts from the claimant to the Commissioner. See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003); Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).

B. The ALJ's Determination

At Step 1, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset of her disability. (Tr. 20). At Step 2, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's mental impairment was "severe" within the meaning of the regulations. ( Id. ) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff's remaining impairments were non-severe, which include headaches and pituitary problems; vision impairment; anxiety, depression and memory problems; and back pain. (Tr. 20-22).

At Step 3, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. (Tr. 22-24). Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's mental impairment does not meet the requirements of Listing 12.05C (intellectual disability) because she did not demonstrate deficits in adaptive functioning, and she does not have other impairments which impose additional and significant work-related limitations. (Tr. 22). The ALJ also found that Plaintiff's mental impairment does not meet the requirements of Listing 12.02 (organic mental disorders) or 12.06 (anxiety-related disorders) because it did not cause at least two "marked" limitations, or one "marked" limitation along with "repeated" episodes of decompensation; did not cause a residual disease process resulting in such marginal adjustment that even a minimal increase in mental demands would be predicted to cause the individual to decompensate; and did not cause the inability to function outside a highly supported living arrangement. (Tr. 23). Finally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's visual impairment does not satisfy Listing 2.02 because Dr. Maryman, a consultative examiner (CE), opined that her eyesight was satisfactory, particularly with the aid of glasses. (Tr. 22).

At Step 4, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform medium work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. 416.967(c), with the following restrictions:

[C]laimant is limited to occupations which do not require exposure to dangerous machinery and unprotected heights. The claimant is able to understand and recall simple instructions and work locations with limited travel or use of public transportation, and would be limited to simple tasks, not performed in a fast-paced production environment, involving only simple, work-related decisions, and in general relatively few work place changes. She is able to persist in attention to these tasks for two-hour segments throughout an eight-hour day. The claimant is limited to occupations requiring only occasional interaction with the public and co-workers and is limited to workplace settings with defined tasks in which she is not required to set independent goals.

(Tr. 24). Based on this assessment, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as a ...


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