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Cawood v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

January 6, 2017

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Lois Jane Cawood (hereafter, “the plaintiff” or “Cawood”) and Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the Commissioner.”) [Record Nos. 13, 14] Cawood argues that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in concluding that she was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Specifically, she asserts that the ALJ failed to properly consider the opinion of her treating physician and to properly evaluate her credibility. Cawood requests an award of benefits in her favor or, alternatively, that the matter be remanded for further administrative proceedings. The Commissioner contends the ALJ properly evaluated the evidence of record and that the ALJ's decision should be affirmed. She further contends that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence.

         For the reasons that follow, the plaintiff's motion will be granted and this matter will be remanded for further proceedings.


         Cawood filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, (“DIB”) on October 26, 2012, alleging an onset of disability of December 30, 2011. [Administrative Transcript, hereinafter “Tr., ” 21] After being denied benefits initially and on reconsideration in 2013, Cawood requested an administrative hearing before an ALJ. Id. On October 7, 2014, Cawood appeared before ALJ Tommye C. Mangus in London, Kentucky. Id. ALJ Mangus found that Cawood had severe impairments of fibromyalgia, prolapsed bladder, major depressive disorder (chronic, mild), dysthymic disorder, and anxiety disorder. Id. at 23. ALJ Mangus determined, however, that Cawood did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. Id. at 24 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526).

         After considering the entire record, the ALJ determined that Cawood had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), except she could not climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds and could perform no more than occasional kneeling, crouching, crawling or climbing of ramps and stairs. The ALJ also determined that Cawood should avoid concentrated exposure to vibration and workplace hazards. Next, the ALJ found that Cawood was able to understand, remember and carry out simple instructions and tasks, and tolerate occasional, gradually introduced changes in the workplace. Id. at 26. The ALJ determined that, although Cawood was unable to perform her past relevant work as a bookkeeper or accounts clerk, there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Cawood was able to perform. Id. at 29. Specifically, the ALJ found that Cawood could work as a ticket taker, an office helper, and a mailroom clerk. Id. at 30. Accordingly, the ALJ determined that she had not been under a disability through December 30, 2011. Id.


         Under the Social Security Act, a “disability” is defined as “the inability to engage in ‘substantial gainful activity' because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment of at least one year's expected duration.” Cruse v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 502 F.3d 532, 539 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). A claimant's Social Security disability determination is made by an ALJ in accordance with “a five-step ‘sequential evaluation process.'” Combs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 642 (6th Cir. 2006) (en banc). If the claimant satisfies the first four steps of the process, the burden shifts to the Commissioner with respect to the fifth step. See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003).

         A claimant must first demonstrate that she is not engaged in substantial gainful employment at the time of the disability application. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, the claimant must show that she suffers from a severe impairment or a combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). Third, if the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful employment and has a severe impairment which is expected to last for at least twelve months and which meets or equals a listed impairment, she will be considered disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). Fourth, if the claimant has a severe impairment but the Commissioner cannot make a determination of the disability based on medical evaluations and current work activity, the Commissioner will review the claimant's residual functional activity (“RFC”) and relevant past work to determine whether she can perform her past work. If she can, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).

         Under the fifth step of the analysis, if the claimant's impairments prevent her from doing past work, the Commissioner will consider her RFC, age, education, and past work experience to determine whether she can perform other work. If she cannot perform other work, the Commissioner will find the claimant disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). “The Commissioner has the burden of proof only on ‘the fifth step, proving that there is work available in the economy that the claimant can perform.'” White v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 312 F. App'x 779, 785 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th Cir. 1999)).

         A court reviewing a denial of Social Security benefits must only determine whether the ALJ's findings were supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as reasonable minds might accept as sufficient to support the conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007). The Commissioner's findings are conclusive if they are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         Although the plaintiff alleged some psychological impairments, her appeal focuses on the ALJ's disposition regarding her claims of physical pain and disability. The pertinent medical evidence of record is summarized as follows:

         Dr. Naushad Haziq performed a consultative examination on February 7, 2013. [Tr. 328] Dr. Haziq noted that Cawood appeared comfortable while seated and supine. While Cawood had no movement limitation, she reported pain during all movements. The examination was otherwise unremarkable, except that Cawood demonstrated “eight paired points and four control point tenderness for ...

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