United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky Northern Division, Ashland
WANDA PARMLEY, Plaintiff.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DAVID L. BUNNING, District Judge.
Plaintiff Wanda Parmley 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 AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff filed her application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on March 19, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of November 4, 2008. (Tr. 101-02). She claimed she was no longer able to work due to both physical and mental impairments. (Tr. 109). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially (Tr. 32), and again on reconsideration (Tr. 33). ALJ Michele M. Kelley held a hearing on July 23, 2013, and thereafter denied Plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 11-23). The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 23, 2014. (Tr. 6-9). This appeal followed.
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. See 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 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 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 March 19, 2010, the application date. (Tr. 16). At Step 2, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairment: lumbar strain/sprain and annular tear at L4/5 with disc bulging back pain. Id. After considering the four broad functional areas in Section 12.00C of the Listing of Impairments (20 CFR, Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had nonsevere mental impairments. Id. At Step 3, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 18).
At Step 4, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform "less than a full range of medium work" with the following limitations:
[Plaintiff] can lift, carry, push, and pull 25 pounds frequently and 50 pounds occasionally. She can stand and walk six hours in an eight-hour workday and sit six hours in an eight-hour workday. She can occasionally climb ramps or stairs and stoop. She should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, humidity, vibrations, and hazards such as vibrating machines.
After determining that Plaintiff has no past relevant work, the ALJ proceeded to the final step of the sequential analysis. At Step 5, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing a significant number of jobs in the national and regional economy. (Tr. 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 ALJ then asked the VE additional hypothetical questions based on limitations not contained in the ALJ's RFC assessment, but otherwise supported by evidence in the record. (Tr. 22-23). The VE testified that even with these additional limitations, Plaintiff could still perform a significant number of jobs in the national and regional ...