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Smith v. Berryhill

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

April 14, 2017

KATINA MICHELLE SMITH PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          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 and the parties' dispositive motions, and for the reasons set forth herein, hereby affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On January 22, 2013, Plaintiff Katina Michelle Smith applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), alleging disability beginning on October 15, 2010. (Tr. 22, 233). Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that she is unable to work due to knee problems, nerves, asthma, and high blood pressure. (Tr. 237).

         Plaintiff's application was denied initially and again on reconsideration. (Tr. 119, 129). At Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was conducted on June 2, 2015, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Marjorie Panter. (Tr. 46-86). On July 27, 2015, ALJ Panter ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to disability benefits. (Tr. 19-45). This decision became final when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 11, 2016. (Tr. 1-7). Plaintiff filed the instant action on September 6, 2016. (Doc. # 1). The matter has culminated in cross-motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for adjudication. (Docs. # 7 and 10).

         II. DISCUSSION

         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 Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 729 (6th Cir. 2007). “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.” Cutlip v. Sec'y Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). Courts are not to conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or make credibility determinations. Id. Rather, the court is required to affirm the Commissioner's decision, as long as it is supported by substantial evidence, even if it might have decided the case differently. Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999). If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's findings must be affirmed, even if there is evidence favoring Plaintiff's side. Listenbee v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 345, 349 (6th Cir. 1988). Similarly, an administrative decision is not subject to reversal merely because substantial evidence would have supported the opposite conclusion. Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 780, 781-82 (6th Cir. 1996).

         To determine disability, the ALJ conducts a five-step analysis. Step One considers whether the claimant can still perform substantial gainful activity; Step Two, whether any of the claimant's impairments, alone or in combination, are “severe;” Step Three, whether the impairments meet or equal a listing in the Listing of Impairments; Step Four, whether the claimant can still perform her past relevant work; and Step Five, whether a significant number of other jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can perform. As to the last step, the burden of proof shifts from the claimant to the Commissioner to identify “jobs in the economy that accommodate [Plaintiff's] residual functional capacity.” See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003); see also Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).

         B. The ALJ's Determination

         At Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity from her alleged onset date of October 15, 2010 through her date last insured, December 31, 2014. (Tr. 24). At Step Two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: knee problem (disorder of muscle, ligament, and fascia), asthma, anxiety, and depression. (Tr. 24). At Step Three, 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 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 25).

         At Step Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff possesses the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a), with the following limitations:

[The claimant] is limited to work requiring no operation of foot controls using the left lower extremity; no more than occasional climbing of ramps or stairs; no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no more than frequent bending or more than occasional kneeling, crouching, or crawling. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to wetness, dust, odors, fumes, or pulmonary irritants. The claimant is limited to occasional contact with supervisors, coworkers, and the public, and workplace changes should occur only occasionally and be introduced gradually.

(Tr. 26-27). Based upon this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not able to perform past relevant work. (Tr. 38). Accordingly, the ALJ proceeded to Step Five, and found that considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 38-39). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as ...


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