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Anderson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

August 29, 2017

ANNETTE D. ANDERSON PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          H. Brent Brennenstuhl, United States Magistrate Judge.

         BACKGROUND

         Before the Court is the complaint (DN 1) of Annette D. Anderson (“Plaintiff”) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN 13) and Defendant (DN 18) have filed a Fact and Law Summary.

         Pursuant 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 10). By Order entered January 17, 2017 (DN 11), 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.

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         On May 24, 2011, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for Supplemental Security Income Benefits (Tr. 134, 355). Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled on December 5, 2008 as a result of the following conditions: back problems/pain, asthma, high blood pressure, knee pain, joint pain, headaches, obesity, asthma, depression and anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms (Tr. 134, 402). On September 12, 2013, Administrative Law Judge Yvette N. Diamond (“ALJ") conducted a video hearing from Baltimore, Maryland (Tr. 12-51, 134). Plaintiff and her attorney, Charles Richard Burchett, participated from Bowling Green, Kentucky (Id.). James R. Newton, an impartial vocational expert, testified during the video hearing (Id.).

         In a decision dated September 26, 2013 the ALJ evaluated this adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 134-42). At the first step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 24, 2011 the application date (Tr. 136). At the second step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease; obesity; headaches; depressive disorder; cocaine dependence in remission; and cannabis dependence, in remission (Id.). At the 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 (Id.).

         At the fourth step, the ALJ gave great weight to the examining source opinion of Michael Meade, M.D., and found that Plaintiff has residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a reduced range of light work because of her physical and mental limitations (Tr. 138). The ALJ found that Plaintiff has no past relevant work (Tr. 140).

         The ALJ proceeded to the fifth step where he considered Plaintiffs RFC, age, education, and past work experience as well as testimony from the vocational expert (Tr. 140-41). The ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing a significant number of jobs that exist in the national economy (Id.). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a “disability, " as defined in the Social Security Act, from May 24, 2011, the date the application was filed, through September 26, 2013, the date of the decision issued (Tr. 141).

         Plaintiff timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision. The Appeals Council granted Plaintiffs request for review (Tr. 149-51). The Appeals Council issued an order remanding the case back to the ALJ with instructions to further develop the record and issue a new decision (Id.). In pertinent part, the order noted that the RFC required the option to sit or stand at will without leaving the workstation, as well as the option to elevate her legs 18 inches above the ground at will, but the ALJ failed to specify the required frequency or duration of these required changes in position (Id.). The order also noted that the ALJ gave great weight to Dr. Meade's opinion but the RFC did not accommodate Dr. Meade's opinion that Plaintiff can only sit in place for 30 to 60 minutes, stand in place for up to 15 minutes, and walk half a block to a block (Tr. 149).

         On May 14, 2015, the ALJ conducted a video hearing from Baltimore, Maryland (Tr. 52-95, 156). Plaintiff and her attorney, Charles Dale Burchett, participated from Bowling Green, Kentucky (Id.). Martin A. Kranitz, testified as an impartial vocational expert during the hearing (Id.). In a decision dated July 23, 2015, the ALJ again evaluated Plaintiffs adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 156-70). At the first step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 24, 2011, the application date (Tr. 158). At the second step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease; degenerative joint disease; obesity; asthma; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); headaches, depressive disorder; and cocaine and cannabis dependence, in remission (Id.). Additionally, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff s Barrett's esophagus and Gastro Esophageal Reflex Disease (GERD) are nonsevere impairments (Tr. 158-59). At the third step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the impairments listed in Appendix 10 (Tr. 159).

         At the fourth step, the ALJ again found that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform a reduce range of light work due to her physical and mental limitations(Tr. 161). The ALJ found that Plaintiff has no past relevant work (Tr. 169).

         At the fifth step, the ALJ considered Plaintiffs RFC, age, education, and past work experience as well as testimony from the vocational expert (Tr. 169-70). The ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing a significant number of jobs that exist in the national economy (Id.). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a “disability, " as defined in the Social Security Act, from May 24, 2011, the date the application was filed, through July 23, 2015, the date of the decision issued (Tr. 170).

         On September 18, 2015, Plaintiff filed a request that the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 5-7). On September 1, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review (Tr. 1-4).

         CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         Standard of Review

         Review 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)).

         As 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 ...


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