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Arvin v. Berryhill

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

April 27, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Joseph M. Hood Senior U.S. District Judge

         Plaintiff Delisa Ann Arvin 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.


         Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to determining whether it is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards. 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. See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). Step One considers whether the claimant is still performing substantial gainful activity; Step Two, whether any of the claimant's impairments 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 his past relevant work; and Step Five, 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. Id.; see also Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).


         On July 23, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), alleging disability as of November 30, 2012. [TR 148-56]. Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. [TR 62-100] . On February 13, 2015, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Tommye C. Mangus held an administrative hearing at Plaintiff's request. [TR 42-61, 101-02]. ALJ Mangus issued a written decision, denying Plaintiff's claim for benefits, on May 29, 2015. [TR 23-35] .

         At Step One of the disability determination process, ALJ Mangus found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. [TR 25]. At Step Two, she concluded that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: irritable bowel syndrome ("IBS"), history of gastroduodenitis, history of duodenal ulcer, dysthymia, and anxiety. [Id.].

         At Step Three, ALJ Mangus determined that Plaintiff did 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 30-31]. In reaching this conclusion, ALJ Mangus found that Plaintiff's mental impairments did not meet the requirements of Listing 12.04 (depressive, bipolar, and related disorders) or Listing 12.06 (anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders) because she had no restrictions in activities of daily living and only moderate difficulties with social functioning and concentration. [Id.]. Moreover, she had not experienced extended episodes of decompensation. [Id.].

         At Step Four, ALJ Mangus found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c), provided that the work "does not require more than occasional stooping from waist." [TR 31]. She observed that "[m]entally, claimant can understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions and tasks, tolerate occasional public contact, and adapt to occasional, gradually introduced changes." [Id.]. ALJ Mangus then determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. [TR 33].

         ALJ Mangus then proceeded to the final step of the sequential evaluation. [TR 34-35]. At Step Five, she determined that there were a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. [Id.]. ALJ Mangus 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 such an individual could find work as a food preparation worker (1, 800 Kentucky/182, 000 nationwide), kitchen helper (2, 900 Kentucky/293, 000 nationwide), or packer (2, 200 Kentucky/172, 000 nationwide). [Id.]. Based on the testimony of the VE, ALJ Mangus found that Plaintiff was capable of making a successful adjustment to other work. [Id.]. Thus, she concluded that Plaintiff was not under a "disability, " as defined by the Social Security Act, from November 30, 2012, the alleged onset date, through the date of the administrative decision. [Id.].

         On June 20, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of ALJ Mangus's administrative decision. [TR 1-4]. Plaintiff filed the instant action on August 2, 2016. [DE 2] . Consistent with the Court's Standing Scheduling Order, the parties have submitted cross motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for review. [DE 10, 12]. Plaintiff argues that ALJ Mangus's administrative decision is not supported by substantial evidence for four reasons. First, she argues that ALJ Mangus erred at Step Two by failing to find that her hypertension was a severe impairment. [DE 10 at 19-12] . Second, she contends that ALJ Mangus erred in her assessment of her credibility at Step Four. [Id. at 12-14] . Third, she complains that the ALJ improperly weighed Dr. William R. Rigby's opinion at Step Four. Fourth, she insists that the ALJ relied on the VE's answer to an inappropriate hypothetical at Step Five.[2] The Court will address each of these arguments in turn.


         A. Severe and Non-Severe Impairments

         At Step Two of the disability determination process, the ALJ must consider the medical severity of the claimant's impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (a) (4) (ii); Soc. Sec. Rul. 96-3p, 1996 WL 374181 at *1 (July 2, 1996) . An impairment is severe if it "significantly limits an individual's physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities, " which include the following: (1) physical functions such as walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying, or handling; (2) capacities for hearing, seeing and speaking; (3) understanding, carrying out and remembering simple instructions; (4) use of judgment; (5) ...

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