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Parks v. Berryhill

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

August 25, 2017

JOYCE ANN PARKS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove, United States District Judge.

         Joyce Ann Parks seeks judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, which denied Parks's claim for disability insurance benefits. Ms. Parks brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), alleging various errors on the part of the ALJ considering the matter. The Court, having reviewed the record and for the reasons set forth herein, will DENY Ms. Parks's motion for summary judgment but will GRANT judgment in favor of the Commissioner.

         I

         A

         Plaintiff Joyce Ann Parks filed an application for Title II disability insurance benefits in July 2013, alleging disability beginning June 1, 2010. [Transcript (hereinafter, “Tr.”) 13.] Ms. Parks had previously filed a Title II application in November 2010 but had that application denied by both the original Administrative Law Judge and the Appeals Council; no appeal to federal court followed. [Id.] According to Parks's motion for summary judgment, she filed her July 2013 application for disability benefits due to her coronary artery disease, complex regional pain syndrome, fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, restless leg syndrome, residual effects of a neck surgery, and peripheral artery disease. [R. 13 at 3.] Parks's claims for Title II benefits were denied initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr. 13.] Subsequently, a hearing was conducted at Parks's request. [Id.] Following the hearing, Administrative Law Judge Roger L. Reynolds issued a final decision denying Parks's claim for benefits. [Tr. 13-22.]

         To evaluate a claim of disability for Title II disability insurance benefits, an ALJ conducts a five-step analysis. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. First, if a claimant is performing a substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, if a claimant does not have any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limit her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, she does not have a severe impairment and is not “disabled” as defined by the regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). Third, if a claimant's impairments meet or equal one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, she is “disabled.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). Before moving on to the fourth step, the ALJ must use all of the relevant evidence in the record to determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), which assesses an individual's ability to perform certain physical and mental work activities on a sustained basis despite any impairment experienced by the individual. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545. Fourth, the ALJ must determine whether the clamant has the RFC to perform the requirements of her past relevant work, and if a claimant's impairments do not prevent her from doing past relevant work, she is not “disabled.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). Fifth, if a claimant's impairments (considering her RFC, age, education, and past work) prevent her from doing other work that exists in the national economy, then she is “disabled.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).

         Through step four of the analysis, “the claimant bears the burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations caused by her impairments and the fact that she is precluded from performing her past relevant work.” Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to identify a significant number of jobs that accommodate the claimant's profile, but the claimant retains the ultimate burden of proving her lack of residual functional capacity. Id.; Jordon v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 548 F.3d 417, 423 (6th Cir. 2008).

         In this case, at step one, ALJ Reynolds found that Parks had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2010, the alleged onset date, through September 30, 2012, her date last insured. [Tr. 16.] At step two, the ALJ found Parks suffers from the severe impairments of polyarthralgias and complex regional pain syndrome, fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, coronary artery disease, residual effects of surgery to the right side of the neck and ear, restless leg syndrome, peripheral artery disease of the right leg, and now status post stent placement to the right common iliac artery. [Id.] At step three, the ALJ determined Parks's combination of impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404. [Tr. 17-18.] Before moving on to step four, the ALJ considered the entire record and determined Parks possessed the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), with certain limitations described as follows:

[N]o lifting or carrying more than 20 pounds occasionally; 10 pounds frequently; no standing and/or walking more than six hours out of an eight-hour work day; no sitting for more than six hours out of an eight-hour work day; unlimited pushing/pulling up the exertional level indicated; no more than frequent balancing or climbing of ramps or stairs; no more than occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; no climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds; and requires a sit/stand option with no prolonged standing or walking in excess of thirty minutes without a five minute break.

[Tr. 18.] This RFC is effectively the same as that articulated in the prior decision denying Parks's first claim for benefits. [See Tr. 70.]

         After explaining how he determined Parks's RFC [see Tr. 18-20], the ALJ found at step four that, based on this RFC, Parks is capable of performing various jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. [Tr. 20-21.] Accordingly, ALJ Reynolds concluded Parks was not disabled at any time from June 1, 2010, through September 30, 2012, pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). The Appeals Council then denied Parks's request for reconsideration, and Parks now seeks review in this Court.

         II

         A

         The Court's review is generally limited to whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Wright v. Massanari, 321 F.3d 611, 614 (6th Cir. 2003); Shelman v. Heckler, 821 F.2d 316, 319-20 (6th Cir. 1987). “Substantial evidence” is “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) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). The substantial evidence standard “presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which [administrative] ...


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