United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division
REBECCA L. JOHNSON 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 Rebecca L. Johnson
(“Plaintiff”) seeking judicial review of the
final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN 11) and Defendant (DN
16) 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 9). By Order
entered December 2, 2006 (DN 10), 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 an application for a period of disability and
Disability Insurance Benefits on June 10, 2013 (Tr. 22,
173-79). Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled on August
1, 2012, as a result of chronic low back pain, sciatica, high
blood pressure, depression, high cholesterol, hypothyroidism,
and coronary artery disease (Tr. 22, 204). Administrative Law
Judge Scott T. Morris (“ALJ”) conducted a video
hearing from Paducah, Kentucky on January 16, 2015 (Tr. 22,
42-43). Plaintiff and her attorney, Sara Martin, participated
from Owensboro, Kentucky (Id.). Kenneth Boaz
testified as an impartial vocational expert during the video
decision dated April 15, 2015 the ALJ evaluated this adult
disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential
evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr.
22-36). At the first step, the ALJ found Plaintiff engaged in
substantial gainful activity during the period August 1, 2012
through June 4, 2013 (Tr. 24). However, the ALJ found that
there has been a continuous 12-month period during which
Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity (Tr.
25). The ALJ's remaining findings addressed the period
that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity
second step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the
following severe impairments: coronary artery disease and
degenerative disc disease (Tr. 25). Notably, at the second
step, the ALJ also determined that Plaintiff's dysthymic
and pain disorders are “non-severe” impairments
within the meaning of the regulations (Tr. 25-27).
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. 27). More specifically, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
does not meet or equal the requirements of any of the
impairments within listing sections 1.00 and 4.00
fourth step, the ALJ made the following findings with regard
to Plaintiff's residual functional capacity:
After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform less than the full range of
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). Specifically,
the claimant can lift or carry up to 20 pounds occasionally
and up to 10 pounds frequently; sit for up to six hours in an
eight-hour workday; and can stand or walk up to six hours in
an eight-hour day. The claimant must alternate between
sitting and standing every hour for approximately five
minutes before returning to the alternate position. She can
push or pull up to the same limits as lifting and carrying.
The claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but
never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant can
frequently balance, but only occasionally stoop, crouch and
crawl. She can have occasional exposure to unprotected
heights, moving mechanical parts, extreme cold/heat,
humidity/witness, vibration, as well as fumes, odors, dusts,
and pulmonary irritants.
(Tr. 27). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any of her
past relevant work (Tr. 34).
proceeded to the fifth step where he considered
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, age, education,
and past work experience as well as testimony from the
vocational expert (Tr. 34-35). The ALJ found that prior to
February 24, 2015, Plaintiff was a person closely approaching
advanced age (age 50-54) under the regulations (Tr. 34,
Finding No. 8). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(d).
The ALJ also found that on February 24, 2015, Plaintiff
became 55 years old and she became a person of advanced age
(age 55 or older) under the regulations (Tr. 34, Finding No.
8). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(e).
found that prior to February 24, 2015, Plaintiff was capable
of performing a significant number of jobs that exist in the
national economy (Tr. 34-35). The ALJ determined that
beginning on February 24, 2015, there are no jobs that exist
in significant numbers in the national economy that she could
perform (Tr. 35). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
was not disabled prior to February 24, 2015, but she became
disabled as of that date, and has continued to be disabled
through the date of the decision (Id.).
timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the
ALJ's decision (Tr. 15-16). The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision
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 The 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 ability to do
basic work activities?
3) Does the claimant have an impairment that meets or
medically equals the criteria of a listed impairment ...