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Hernandez v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

December 14, 2016

PATRICIA SUE HERNANDEZ PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM, OPINION, AND ORDER

          H. Brent Brennenstuhl United States Magistrate Judge.

         BACKGROUND

         Before the Court is the complaint (DN 1) of Patricia Sue Hernandez (“Plaintiff”) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN 13) and Defendant (DN 16) have filed a Fact and Law Summary.

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties have consented to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge conducting all further proceedings in this case, including issuance of a memorandum opinion and entry of judgment, with direct review by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the event an appeal is filed (DN 10). By Order entered July 26, 2016, (DN 11), the parties were notified that oral arguments would not be held unless a written request was filed and granted. No such request was filed.

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         Plaintiff protectively filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on July 24, 2012. (Tr. 313-17, 318-26). Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled on March 15, 2009 (Tr. 313, 318), as a result of Degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, scoliosis, back pain, neck pain, problems with left leg, numbness, tingling, poor reflex, insomnia, depression, anxiety, poor memory, focus, and concentration, very poor balance, joint pain, hands and arms (Tr. 371). Administrative Law Judge John R. Price (“ALJ”) conducted a video hearing on August 15, 2014. The ALJ presided over the hearing remotely from Louisville, Kentucky, and Plaintiff was present in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Plaintiff was represented by Charles Dale Burchett. Also present and testifying was Sharon B. Lane, a vocational expert.

         In a decision dated September 25, 2014, the ALJ evaluated this adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 68-85). At the first step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 15, 2009, the alleged onset date (Tr. 73). At the second step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's major depressive disorder and minimal degenerative disc disease are “severe” impairments within the meaning of the regulations (Id.). At the third step, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1 (Tr. 74-75).

         At the fourth step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform light work, except she should have a sit/stand option in thirty minute intervals with a minute or two to change positions (Tr. 75). Additionally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff can stand and walk for four hours in an eight hour day and sit for six (Id.). She can use a cane to walk, should not climb or crawl, but can stoop, kneel, and crouch occasionally (Id.). She should avoid concentrated humidity, vibrations, dust, gas, fumes, and other pulmonary irritants (Id.). She should avoid heights and dangerous machinery and cannot operate commercial driving equipment. Moreover, she should perform low stress work with no fast-paced production quotas. Her work should be simple, one or two step tasks that are non-detailed with little change in daily routine. Finally, she should have only superficial contact with others (Id.). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any of her past relevant work as a security guard, waitress, cashier, machine operator, corrections officer, or baker (Tr. 79).

         The ALJ proceeded to the fifth step where he considered Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience as well as testimony from the vocational expert (Tr. 80). The ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing a significant number of jobs that exist in the national economy (Id.). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a “disability, ” as defined in the Social Security Act, from March 15, 2009 through the date of the decision (Id.).

         Plaintiff timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 65-67). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-7).

         CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         Standard of Review

         Review by the Court is limited to determining whether the findings set forth in the final decision of the Commissioner are supported by “substantial evidence, ” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Cotton v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 692, 695 (6th Cir. 1993); Wyatt v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 974 F.2d 680, 683 (6th Cir. 1992), and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Landsaw v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th Cir. 1986). “Substantial evidence exists when a reasonable mind could accept the evidence as adequate to support the challenged conclusion, even if that evidence could support a decision the other way.” Cotton, 2 F.3d at 695 (quoting Casey v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993)). In reviewing a case for substantial evidence, the Court “may not try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in evidence, nor decide questions of credibility.” Cohen v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 964 F.2d 524, 528 (6th Cir. 1992) (quoting Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984)).

         As previously mentioned, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-3). At that point, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955(b), 404.981, 422.210(a); see 42 U.S.C. § 405(h) (finality of the Commissioner's decision). Thus, the Court will be reviewing the decision of the ALJ, not the Appeals Council, and the evidence that was in the administrative record when the ALJ rendered the decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); 20 ...


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