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Fisher v. Colvin

United States District Court, Eastern District of Kentucky, Central Division

March 12, 2015

BEVERLY FISHER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DANNY C. REEVES JUDGE.

This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment. [Record Nos. 15, 16] Plaintiff Beverly Fisher (“Fisher” or “the Claimant”) argues that the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) assigned to her case did not give proper weight to opinion evidence in determining her residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to work. However, Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”), contends 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 Fisher.

I.

On January 26, 2012, Fisher filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), and supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act. [Record No. 7-1, Administrative Transcript, “Tr., ” p. 9] She alleges a disability beginning June 9, 2010. [Tr., p. 194] Fisher, along with attorney Robert Cornett and vocational expert (“VE”) Joyce Forrest appeared before ALJ Robert B. Bowling on April 10, 2013, for an administrative hearing. [Tr., pp. 24–72] On April 15, 2013, the ALJ concluded that Fisher was not disabled under sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Act. [Tr., pp. 9–19] Fisher appeal of that determination before the SSA’s Appeals Council was denied on May 12, 2014. [Tr., pp. 1–3]

Fisher was 43 years old when her alleged disability began on June 9, 2010, and 46 years old at the time of the ALJ’s decision. She has a high school education and previously worked as an industrial cleaner and picker/packer. [Tr., p. 18] After considering the testimony presented during the administrative hearing and reviewing the record, ALJ Bowling concluded that Fisher suffers from severe impairments including osteoarthritis and allied disorders, disorders of the spine, an affective disorder, and a somatoform disorder. [Tr., p. 11] Despite these impairments, the ALJ concluded that she maintained the RFC to perform medium work, subject to the following limitations:

[Fisher] can stand and walk for approximately six hours in an eight-hour workday and sit for approximately six hours in an eight-hour workday; she can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to the use of moving machinery and unprotected heights. She is limited to simple, routine and repetitive tasks performed in a work environment free of fast-paced production requirements involving only simple, work-related decisions and with few, if any, work place changes. The claimant should have only occasional interaction with coworkers and only occasional supervision.

[Tr., p. 14–15]

After considering Fisher’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined that Fisher is capable of performing her past relevant work as an industrial cleaner and picker/packer. [Tr., p. 18] Thus, he concluded that Fisher was not disabled from June 9, 2010, through the date of the administrative decision. [Tr., p. 19]

II.

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 his 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 his 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. App’x 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 ...


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