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Hayes v. Berryhill

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

August 7, 2017

TERESA HAYES PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          DAVID L. BANNING 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, will affirm the Commissioner's decision.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On May 2, 2013, Plaintiff Teresa Hayes applied for disability insurance benefits (DIB), alleging disability beginning on January 1, 2012. (Tr. 168). Plaintiff was fifty-three years old at the time of filing, and she alleged that she was unable to work due to diabetes, obesity, neuropathy, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and pain. (Tr. 75).

         Plaintiff's application was denied initially, and again on reconsideration. (Tr. 102-05; 107-13). At Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was conducted on October 13, 2015 before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Scott Johnson. (Tr. 35-74). On November 18, 2015, ALJ Johnson ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 10). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on October 25, 2016, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-6).

         Plaintiff filed the instant action on December 12, 2016, alleging the ALJ's decision “was erroneous, arbitrary and was not supported by substantial evidence.” (Doc. # 1 at 1). The matter had culminated in cross-motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for adjudication. (Docs. # 8 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 of 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 must affirm the Commissioner's decision, as long as it is supported by substantial evidence, even if the Court 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. The burden of proof rests with the Plaintiff on Steps One through Four. As to the last step, the burden of proof shifts 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 has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2012, the alleged onset date of disability. (Tr. 15). At Step Two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: diabetes with neuropathy and obesity. Id. The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff has the following non-severe impairments: hypertension, fatigue, vision loss, acute renal failure, pyelonephritis, kidney stones, and prolapsed bladder. (Tr. 16-17). At Step Three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 21).

         At Step Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff possesses the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform work at the light exertional level, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), with the following limitations:

The claimant was able to lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. The claimant was able to stand or walk for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday, and sit for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday. The claimant could frequently climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant could frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant could frequently handle and finger, bilaterally. The claimant could occasionally tolerate exposure to extreme ...

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