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Lewis v. Colvin

United States District Court, Eastern District of Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland

March 26, 2015

PAMELA I. LEWIS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Danny C. Reeves United States District Judge

This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Pamela I. Lewis (hereafter, “Lewis” or “the Claimant”) and Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (hereafter, “the Commissioner”). [Record Nos. 13, 14] Lewis argues that the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) assigned to her case erred by finding that she is not entitled to a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, or supplemental security income. [Record No. 13-1, pp. 11–14] However, the Commissioner asserts that the ALJ’s decision is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. [Record No. 14, pp. 3–9] For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Commissioner’s motion and deny the relief requested by Lewis.

I.

On October 23, 2009, Lewis 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. 8-1, Administrative Transcript, “Tr., ” p. 18] She alleges a disability beginning September 26, 2009.[1] [Id.] Lewis, along with attorney Lucinda Cornett and vocational expert (“VE”) Anthony Michael, appeared before ALJ Jerry Meade on March 5, 2013, for an administrative hearing. [Tr., pp. 1140–56] On April 2, 2013, ALJ Meade found that Lewis was not disabled under sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Act. [Tr., p. 31] Lewis appealed the ALJ’s determination to the SSA’s Appeals Council. However, her appeal was denied on June 23, 2014. [Tr., pp. 8–10]

Lewis was 43 years old when her alleged disability began (September 26, 2009), and 47 years old at the time of ALJ Meade’s decision. She has a high school education and previously worked as a nursing assistant. [Tr., p. 30] After considering the testimony presented during the administrative hearing and reviewing the record, the ALJ concluded that Lewis suffers from severe impairments including: obesity; COPD; osteoarthritis; congestive heart failure; borderline intellectual functioning (“BIF”); panic disorder with agoraphobia; and major depressive disorder. [Tr., pp. 20–23] Notwithstanding these impairments, the ALJ concluded that the Claimant maintained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform less than a full range of light work, with the following constraints:

[Lewis] can lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She can stand at least three hours total and 30 minutes at a time out of an eight-hour workday. She can walk two hours out of an eight-hour workday and no more than one-half hour without interruption. She can sit at least six hours out of an eight-hour workday and four hours without interruption. She can only occasionally climb ramps or stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She can never climb ladders or scaffolds. She can occasionally push or pull with the upper extremities. She can frequently reach. She can occasionally be exposed to unprotected heights, moving machinery, humidity, wetness, temperature extremes, dust, odors, fumes, and pulmonary irritants. She can understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions. She can deal with changes in routine work setting. She can have no interaction with the public and occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors.

[Tr., 25]

After considering Lewis’ age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ concluded that there existed a significant number of jobs in the national economy that she can perform, including routing clerk, hand packager, inspector, and sorter. [Tr., p. 31] Thus, the ALJ determined that Lewis was not disabled from September 26, 2009, through the date of the administrative hearing. [Id.]

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 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. 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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