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Collins v. Colvin

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

March 22, 2017

APRIL NICOLE COLLINS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          KAREN K. CALDWELL, CHIEF JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment. [DE 11 & 12]. The Plaintiff, April Nicole Collins, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial relief from an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). The Court, having reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner's decision as it is supported by substantial evidence and was decided by the proper legal standards.

         I. OVERVIEW OF THE PROCESS

         The Social Security Act and corresponding regulations provide that the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) must follow a five-step sequential process in determining whether a claimant has a compensable disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); see also Rabbers v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 582 F.3d 647, 652 (6th Cir. 2009) (describing the administrative process). The five steps, in summary, are as follows:

1) If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, the claimant is not disabled.
2) If the claimant does not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment-i.e., an impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities-the claimant is not disabled.
3) If the claimant has a severe impairment(s) that meets or equals one of the listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations and meets the duration requirement, the claimant is disabled.
4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him or her from doing his or her past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled.
5) If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is disabled.

Rabbers, 582 F.3d at 652 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), 404.1520(b)-(g)). If, at any step in the process, the ALJ concludes that the claimant is or is not disabled, the ALJ can then complete the “determination or decision and [the ALJ] do[es] not go on to the next step.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).

         The burden is on the claimant to satisfy the first four steps of the analysis. Kyle v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 609 F.3d 847, 855 (6th Cir. 2010) (citing Germany-Johnson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 313 F. App'x 771, 774 (6th Cir. 2008)). Thereafter, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show “a significant number of jobs in the economy that accommodate the claimant's residual functional capacity (determined at step four) and vocational profile.” Id. (internal citations omitted); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)(1).

         II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND AND THE ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         Born March 13, 1977, April Collins was 33 years old when she allegedly became disabled and 37 years old at the time of the Commissioner's final decision that is now before this Court. [TR 123]. She is married and lives with her husband and daughter. [TR 42]. Collins graduated from high school and completed one year of college before joining the workforce. [TR 161]. In the past, she worked as a physical therapy technician, a receptionist, a mail handler, a bank teller, and a retail sales clerk. [TR 161]. She alleges disability due to conditions related to her left knee, which include lateral meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament tears, anterior cruciate ligament and lateral meniscus transplants, and a knee replacement. [TR 160].

         Collins filed her application for DIB on December 6, 2012, alleging an onset date of October 11, 2010. [TR 49]. Her application was denied initially on January 8, 2013, and again on reconsideration on March 13, 2013. [TR 59, 60]. Collins then filed a timely request for a hearing before an ALJ. [TR 85]. ALJ Todd Spangler conducted a hearing on March 22, 2013, in Middlesboro, Kentucky. [TR 25]. Collins attended the hearing, accompanied by her lawyer, at which she testified on her own behalf. [TR 25]. Jo Ann Bullard, an impartial vocational expert, also testified at the hearing. [TR 25]. Thereafter, the ALJ issued a decision on June 5, 2014, denying benefits to Collins. [TR 13].

         The ALJ applied the traditional five-step sequential analysis promulgated by the Commissioner, see 20 C.F.R § 404.1520, and found as follows. First, the ALJ determined that Collins had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of October 11, 2010. [TR 15]. Second, the ALJ classified Collins as suffering from a chronic left anterior cruciate ligament tear, status post left knee arthroplasty, arthroscopy and arthrocentesis, with postoperative evidence of early osteoarthritis-all constituting, when combined, “severe” impairments as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). [TR 15]. Third, ...


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