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Clark v. Colvin

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

April 29, 2015

TAMMY CLARK, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DAVID L. BUNNING, District Judge.

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

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff Tammy Clark filed her current application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") payments, alleging disability as of June 1, 2000. (Tr. 200-17). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 94-97, 100-102). On December 18, 2012, Administrative Law Judge Don C. Paris conducted an administrative hearing at Plaintiff's request. (Tr. 26-57). ALJ Paris ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits on January 31, 2013. (Tr. 13-22). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on April 19, 2014. (Tr. 1-5).

On May 6, 2014, Plaintiff filed the instant action. (Docs. # 1 and 2). This matter has culminated in cross motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for review. (Docs. # 11, 12 and 13).

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 Social 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 his 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 Social 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 application date. (Tr. 15). At Step 2, the ALJ found Plaintiff's history of coronary artery disease, affective disorder, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder and morbid obesity to be severe impairments within the meaning of the regulations. (Id. ).

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, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 15-17). In making this determination, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or equal Listing 12.04 (affective disorders) or Listing 12.06 (anxiety-related disorders) because her daily activities suggest only moderate limitations in social functioning and her medical history does not include repeated episodes of decompensation. (Tr. 16-17).

At Step Four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967©; that is:

[O]ccasional lifting and carrying 20 pounds and frequently 10 pounds; standing and walking six hours in an eight-hour workday; sitting six hours in an eight-hour workday; never climbing ladders, ropes and scaffolds; must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, heat, humidity, noise, fumes, odors, dust, gases and all hazards such as unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. The claimant is capable of understanding and remembering simple work instructions. She is capable of carrying out simple work instructions; asking simple questions but difficulty getting along with the general public and others. The claimant is capable of being aware of normal hazards, but has difficulty responding to changes in the work setting.

(Tr. 17-21). The ALJ noted that the claimant has no past relevant work. (Tr. 21).

Accordingly, the ALJ proceeded to the final step of the sequential evaluation. At Step 5, the ALJ found that there were a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 21-22). The ALJ based this conclusion on testimony from a vocational expert ("VE"), in response to a hypothetical question assuming an individual of Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC. (Id. ). The VE testified that a hypothetical individual with Plaintiff's vocational profile and RFC could find light unskilled work as a hand-packer (4, 300 Kentucky/315, 000 nationally), order filler (3, 600 Kentucky/213, 000 nationally) or weigher (400 Kentucky/27, 000 nationally). (Tr. 21). Based on the testimony of the VE and Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of making a successful adjustment to other work and thus concluded that she was not under a "disability, " as defined by the Social Security Act. (Id. ).

C. Analysis

Plaintiff's counsel sets forth six arguments for the Court's consideration. The Court will quote them verbatim: (1) the ALJ erred in stating that [Plaintiff] does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 when considered with obesity; (2) the ALJ erred in failing to find [Plaintiff's] mental impairments disabling; (3) the ALJ erred in failing to fully consider [Plaintiff's] complaints of pain; (4) the ALJ erred in stating that [Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 416.967©; (5) the ALJ erred in stating that [Plaintiff] has not been under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act; and (6) [Plaintiff] should be found totally and permanently disabled from June 1, 2000. (Doc. # 11 at 1).

While Plaintiff's counsel clearly identifies the issues before the Court, she fails to develop them in any detail. Instead of explaining how the ALJ failed to give appropriate weight to certain evidence or erred in reaching certain conclusions, Plaintiff's counsel simply cites the relevant law and baldly states that the law applies favorably in her client's case. The Court is under no obligation to consider such conclusory arguments. "[I]ssues adverted to in a perfunctory manner, unaccompanied by some effort at developed argumentation, are deemed waived." See McPherson v. Kelsey, 125 F.3d 989, 995-96 (6th Cir. 1997) (internal citations omitted). "It is not sufficient for a party to mention a possible argument in the most skeletal way, leaving the court to... put flesh on its bones." Id. That being said, the Court will address the alleged points of error to the extent that it is able. Plaintiff's counsel is on notice that such threadbare arguments will not be tolerated in the future.

1. The ALJ's finding that Plaintiff's history of coronary artery disease did not meet or medically equal any of the Listings of Impairments is supported by substantial evidence

At the third step in the disability determination process, the Commissioner considers the medical severity of the claimant's impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). Specifically, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the listings in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. These Listings "describe[ ] for each of the major body systems impairments that [the SSA] consider[s] to be severe enough to prevent an individual from doing any gainful activity, regardless of his or her age, education or work experience." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1525(a). If the claimant can satisfy all of the objective medical criteria, plus the duration requirement, then he or she "will be deemed conclusively disabled[ ] and entitled to benefits." Reynolds v. Comm'r of Social Sec., 424 F.Appx. 411, 414 (6th Cir. 2011); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509 (stating that the impairment "must have lasted or must be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months, " unless it is expected to result in death). The Commissioner may also find that the claimant is per se disabled if he or she demonstrates that the impairment is "at least equal in severity and duration to the criteria of any listed impairment" and meets the duration requirement. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1525(c)(3).

Listing 4.00(A)(1)(b) defines a cardiovascular impairment as a condition "result[ing] from one or more of four consequences of heart ...


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