United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division
LYDIA A. BRAGG PLAINTIFF
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Brent Brennenstuhl United States Magistrate Judge.
the Court is the complaint (DN 1) of Lydia A. Bragg
(“Plaintiff”) seeking judicial review of the
final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Plaintiff has moved the Court for a remand to
consider new medical evidence (DN 11), Defendant has filed a
response (DN 18), and Plaintiff has filed a reply (DN 20).
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 9). By Order
entered August 4, 2016 (DN 10), the parties were notified
that oral arguments would not be held unless a written
request therefor was filed and granted. No such request was
November 29, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (Tr. 17, 205). On October 24,
2013, Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental
Security Income (Tr. 17, 211). Plaintiff alleged that she
became disabled on February 28, 2010, as a result of severe
neck and shoulder pain, fused vertebrae in the lumbar spine,
impaired reflexes, decreased sensation/feelings in the right
leg, and bulging/possible degenerative discs (Tr. 205, 211,
223). Prior to the administrative hearing Plaintiff amended
her alleged onset date to August 31, 2012 (Tr. 41, 313). On
September 11, 2014, Administrative Law Judge Mary Joan
McNamara (“ALJ”) conducted a video hearing from
Baltimore, Maryland (Tr. 17, 39-40). Plaintiff and her
counsel, Mary G. Burchett-Bower participated from Bowling
Green, Kentucky (Id.). Additionally, Peter A. Manzi,
an impartial vocational expert participated and testified
from Rochester, New York (Id.).
decision dated November 24, 2014, the ALJ evaluated this
adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential
evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr.
17-32). At the first step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 31,
2012, the alleged onset date (Tr. 19). At the second step,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's spine
disorders/degenerative disc disease/osteoarthritis are
“severe” impairments within the meaning of the
regulations (Id.). Notably, at the second step, the
ALJ also determined that Plaintiff's migraine headaches,
anxiety, and depression/affective disorder are
“non-severe” impairments within the meaning of
the regulations (Tr. 19-23). 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. 23).
fourth step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual
functional capacity to perform less than a full range of
light work because she can never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; can occasionally stoop; can frequently kneel,
crouch, and crawl; and can unlimitedly climb stairs, climb
ramps, and balance (Tr. 23). Relying on testimony from the
vocational expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to
perform any of her past relevant work (Tr. 30).
proceeded to the fifth step where she considered
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, age, education,
and past work experience as well as testimony from the
vocational expert (Tr. 30-32). The ALJ found that Plaintiff
is capable of performing a significant number of jobs that
exist in the national economy (Tr. 32). Therefore, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a
“disability, ” as defined in the Social Security
Act, from August 31, 2012, through the date of the decision,
November 24, 2014 (Id.).
timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the
ALJ's decision (Tr. 11-13). The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision
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)).
previously mentioned, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision
(Tr. 1-5). 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 C.F.R. § 404.981; Cline v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 96 F.3d 146, 148 (6th Cir.
1996); Cotton v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 692, 695-696 (6th
Commissioner's Sequential Evaluation Process
Social Security Act authorizes payment of Disability
Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income to
persons with disabilities. 42 U.S.C. Â§' 401 et seq.
(Title II Disability Insurance Benefits), 1381 et seq. (Title
XVI Supplemental Security Income). The term
“disability” is defined as an
[I]nability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by
reason of any medically determinable physical or mental
impairment which can be expected to result in death or which
has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period
of not less than twelve (12) months.
42 U.S.C. Â§' 423(d)(1)(A) (Title II), 1382c(a)(3)(A)
(Title XVI); 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1505(a), 416.905(a);
Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 214 (2002);
Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir.
Commissioner has promulgated regulations setting forth a
five-step sequential evaluation process for evaluating a
disability claim. See “Evaluation of
disability in general, ” 20 C.F.R. '' ...