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Carey v. Colvin

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

July 3, 2015

STACY CAREY 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 Stacy Carey filed her current application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") payments, alleging disability as of June 1, 2011. (Tr. 161-73). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 97-100 and 108-10). On April 4, 2013, Administrative Law Judge Jonathan Stanley conducted an administrative hearing at Plaintiff's request. (Tr. 36-79). ALJ Stanley ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits on April 19, 2013. (Tr. 20-35). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on August 21, 2013. (Tr. 1-6).

On September 11, 2014, Plaintiff filed the instant action. (Doc. # 1). This matter has culminated in cross motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for the Court's review. (Docs. # 9, 10 and 12).

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 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 has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (Tr. 25). At Step 2, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: (1) degenerative disc disease lumbar spine, status post fusion surgery with rods at L4-5 and L5-S1; (2) minimal degenerative joint disease hips bilaterally with history of right greater trochanteric bursitis; and (3) history of neck pain with bilateral shoulder pain. ( 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. 26). Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or equal Listing 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint), Listing 1.04 (spine disorders) or any other subsections of Listing 1.00 (musculoskeletal system) because "there is no current evidence of nerve root compression or neurological deficit." ( Id. ).

At Step 4, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform less than the full range of light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b); that is:

The claimant can perform work at the light exertional level except she can occasionally push and pull; can occasionally climb stairs and ramps, but cannot climb ropes, ladders and scaffolds; can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; can occasionally reach overhead bilaterally; must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and ...

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