United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division
MELODY A. NORRIS PLAINTIFF
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Brent Brennenstuhl United States Magistrate Judge.
the Court is the complaint (DN 1) of Melody A. Norris
(''Plaintiff'') seeking judicial review of
the final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN 16) and Defendant (DN
21) have filed a Fact and Law Summary.
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 12). By Order
entered September 1, 2016 (DN 13), the parties were notified
that oral arguments would not be held unless a written
request therefor was filed and granted. No such request was
filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and
Supplemental Security Income Benefits on August 19, 2013 (Tr.
15, 182, 185). Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled on
August 6, 2013 as a result of Graves disease (Tr. 15, 182,
185, 235). Administrative Law Judge David S. Pang
(''ALJ'') conducted a video hearing from
Baltimore, Maryland on January 12, 2015 (Tr. 15, 35-37).
Plaintiff and her counsel, Richard Burchett, participated
from Bowling Green, Kentucky (Id.). James W. Primm
testified as an impartial vocational expert during the
administrative hearing (Id.).
decision dated March 16, 2015, the ALJ evaluated this adult
disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential
evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr.
15-28). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff meets the insured
status requirements of the Social Security Act through
December 31, 2018 (Tr. 17). At the first step, the ALJ found
Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since August 6, 2013 the alleged onset date (Tr. 17). At the
second step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's
Graves' disease, diabetes, and visual impairment in
combination constitute a ''severe''
impairment within the meaning of the regulations (Tr. 17-18).
Notably, at the second step, the ALJ also determined that
Plaintiff's obesity and depressive disorder are
''non-severe'' impairments within the meaning
of the regulations (Tr. 18-21). 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. 21-22).
fourth step, the ALJ found Plaintiff “has the residual
functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all
exertional levels but with the following nonexertional
limitations: the claimant cannot work in unprotected heights,
operate heavy machinery, or operate a motor vehicle”
(Tr. 22). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff is “capable of performing
past relevant work as a Cook, Child Care Attendant, and Dairy
Helper” (Tr. 26). Additionally, the ALJ considered
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, age, education,
and past work experience as well as testimony from the
vocational expert (Tr. 27-28). The ALJ found that Plaintiff
is capable of performing a significant number of jobs that
exist in the national economy (Tr. 27-28). Therefore, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a
''disability, '' as defined in the Social
Security Act, from August 6, 2013 through the date of the
decision, March 16, 2015 (Tr. 28).
timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the
ALJ's decision (Tr. 9-11). In support of the request
Plaintiff submitted additional medical evidence (Tr. 2, 5).
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review
of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-4). Notably, the Appeals
Council found the new medical evidence did not affect the
ALJ's decision because it concerned Plaintiff's
condition after March 16, 2015 (Tr. 2).
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. 1-4). 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. §§ 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. §§ 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. 1990).
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. §§
404.1520, 416.920. In summary, the evaluation proceeds as
1) Is the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity?
2) Does the claimant have a medically determinable impairment
or combination of impairments that satisfies the duration
requirement and significantly limits his or her ...