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Joan Vires v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

August 24, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT



         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, will affirm the Commissioner's decision, as it is supported by substantial evidence.


         On June 20, 2013, Plaintiff Cheryl Ann Joan Vires filed an application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), alleging disability beginning on November 4, 2011. (Tr. 173-77). Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that she was limited in ability to work due to osteoarthritis of her hands. (Tr. 211).

         Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 89, 90; see also 107-09, 114-20). Plaintiff subsequently amended her disability date to July 27, 2012. (Tr. 195). At Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was conducted on January 26, 2015, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Greg Holsclaw. (Tr. 36-77). On June 23, 2015, ALJ Holsclaw ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 14-34). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on July 13, 2016. (Tr. 1-6).

         On September 11, 2016, Plaintiff filed the instant action. (Doc. # 1). This matter has culminated in cross-motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for the Court's review. (Docs. # 7, 9, and 12).


         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 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, the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision, provided it is supported by substantial evidence, even if the Court might have decided the case differently. See 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 and 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).

         The ALJ, in determining disability, conducts a five-step analysis. 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 her 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. See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003); 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 had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from her amended alleged onset date, July 27, 2012, through her date last insured. (Tr. 19). At Step Two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had two severe impairments: arthritis of the hand(s) (to include left CMC joint arthritis)/lateral epicondylitis; and a history of vertigo/syncope. (Tr. 20). At Step Three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that “meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1." (Tr. 22). Specifically, the ALJ considered Listing 1.02B and found that the record did not show that Plaintiff was “unable to effectively perform fine and gross movements effectively.” (Tr. 22). Nor did Plaintiff's impairments show inflammatory arthritis under the immune system disorders in Listing 14.09, or any other impairment or combination that met or medically equaled a Listing. (Tr. 22-23).

         At Step Four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a limited range of medium work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c), with the exertional and non-exertional limitations as follows:

[N]o more than six hours of standing/walking out of an eight-hour workday, sitting no more than six hours out of an eight hour workday, and pushing/pull only to the medium weight limits except should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no more than frequent (versus constant/continuous) climbing of ramps/stairs, stooping, kneeling, crouching or crawling; unlimited balancing; no exposure to dangerous moving machinery or ...

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