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Hall v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Covington

January 11, 2017

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT


          David L. Bunning United States 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.


         On December 14, 2011, Plaintiff Tonya Michele Hall protectively filed her application for Disability Insurance Benefits, alleging disability as of March 14, 2011. (Tr. 151-52). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 62-74 and 76-88). On December 17, 2013, Administrative Law Judge Don Paris conducted an administrative hearing at Plaintiff's request. (Tr. 26-61). ALJ Paris ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits on January 31, 2014. (Tr. 8-25). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on August 25, 2015. (Tr. 1-6).

         On October 20, 2015, 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. # 16 and 17).


         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 did not engage in substantial gainful activity from his alleged onset date through his date last insured (March 14, 2011 through December 31, 2015). (Tr. 13). At Step 2, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments through the date last insured: status post motor vehicle accident resulting in right fibular, tibia and acetabular fractures and left tibial, femur, first and fifth metatarsal fractures. (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. 15). Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments do not meet listing 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint). (Id.). In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ noted that while Plaintiff has required several surgeries for her musculoskeletal injuries, treatment records indicated that she was “doing well, ambulating with and/or without an AFO brace.” (Id.).

         At Step 4, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a), with “standing/walking 2 hours in a workday but requiring a sit/stand option with no prolonged standing/walking in excess of ½ an hour without interruption; sit 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; no pushing and/or pulling with foot controls; occasionally climbing ramps/stairs; never climbing ladders/ropes; no more than frequent balancing, occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling; and avoidance of all exposure to full-body vibration and all hazards such as unprotected heights and dangerous machinery.” (Id.). The ALJ further found that Plaintiff was unable to perform past relevant work as an administrative inventory clerk or work in data entry. (Tr. 18).

         Accordingly, the ALJ proceeded to the final step of the sequential evaluation. At Step 5, the ALJ found that there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 18-19). The ALJ based this conclusion on testimony from a vocational expert (“VE”), in response to a hypothetical question assuming an individual of Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC. (Id.). The VE testified that a hypothetical individual with Plaintiff's vocational profile and RFC could find sedentary work as an order clerk (223, 000 nationally/2, 000 Kentucky), in bench assembly (352, 000 nationally, 2, 400 Kentucky), or inspecting (301, 000 nationally/2, 100 Kentucky). (Tr. 19). Based on the testimony of the VE and Plaintiff's age, education, work ...

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