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Luster v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

June 24, 2015

TRACY RANEE LUSTER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOSEPH M. HOOD, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon cross-motions for summary judgment on Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner's denial of her application for disability income benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI).[1] The Court, having reviewed the record and considered the parties' arguments, finds that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge is supported by substantial evidence and, thus, the Court will grant Defendant's motion and deny Plaintiff's motion.

I. Overview of the Process and the Instant Matter

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), in determining disability, must conduct a five-step analysis:

1. An individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity is not disabled, regardless of the claimant's medical condition.
2. An individual who is working but does not have a "severe" impairment which significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities is not disabled.
3. If an individual is not working and has a severe impairment which "meets the duration requirement and is listed in appendix 1 or is equal to a listed impairment(s)", then he is disabled regardless of other factors.
4. If a decision cannot be reached based on current work activity and medical facts alone, and the claimant has a severe impairment, then the Secretary reviews the claimant's residual functional capacity and the physical and mental demands of the claimant's previous work. If the claimant is able to continue to do this previous work, then he is not disabled.
5. If the claimant cannot do any work he did in the past because of a severe impairment, then the Secretary considers his residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience to see if he can do other work. If he cannot, the claimant is disabled.

Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (1982)). "The burden of proof is on the claimant throughout the first four steps of this process to prove that he is disabled." Id. "If the analysis reaches the fifth step without a finding that the claimant is not disabled, the burden transfers to the Secretary." Id.

The Plaintiff has not worked since 2008. The ALJ determined that she had severe impairments including: chronic neck pain following cervical vertebra fractures; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; hypertension; obesity; hyperglycemia; borderline intellectual functioning; reading disorder; mathematics learning disorder; posttraumatic stress disorder; panic disorder without agoraphobia; depressive disorder; and marijuana abuse, which was allegedly in remission. The ALJ determined, however, that none of the impairments met or medically equaled the severity of an impairment listed in Appendix 1. After considering the medical evidence, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work, but retains the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). The ALJ added, however, that Plaintiff could do no balancing or climbing; no more than occasional climbing of stairs or ramps, pushing, pulling, or overhead work with the upper extremities; no more than frequent turning of the head from side to side; and no exposure to concentrated vibration or industrial hazards. Additionally, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff requires entry-level work with simple, repetitive procedures; no frequent changes in work routines; no requirement for detailed or complex problem solving, independent planning or setting of goals; and no fast-paced assembly lines or rigid production quotas. Finally, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff should work in an object-oriented environment with only occasional and casual contact with coworkers, supervisors, or the general public. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of making a successful transition to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy and, therefore, was not disabled.

II. Standard of Review

In reviewing the ALJ's decision to deny disability benefits, the Court may "not try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of credibility." Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). Instead, judicial review of the ALJ's decision is limited to an inquiry into whether the ALJ's findings were supported by substantial evidence, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 353 (6th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted), and whether the ALJ employed the proper legal standards in reaching his conclusion. See Landsaw v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th Cir. 1986). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla of ...


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