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Bartolomei v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

October 30, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT


          Dave Whalin, Magistrate Judge

         The Commissioner of Social Security denied Theresa Ann Bartolomei's (“Bartolomei”) application for supplemental security income benefits. Bartolomei seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (DN 1). Both Bartolomei (DN 17) and the Commissioner (DN 22) 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 16).


         Theresa Bartolomei is 26-years old (Tr. 37), completed the eighth grade (Tr. 38), and lives with her six-year-old son, her mother, and her brother in Magnolia, Kentucky. (Tr. 45-46). Bartolomei has never performed substantial gainful employment and believes she cannot work because of her paranoia about leaving the house, her anger problems, and pain in her neck and back. (Tr. 40). Bartolomei testified that her depression and lower back pain require that she frequently lie down during the day. (Tr. 48). When she is not lying down, Bartolomei tries to help her son read books and complete his homework, cooks dinner, and watches movies. (Tr. 49).

         Bartolomei applied for supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”) under Title XVI, claiming that she became disabled on March 12, 2012, (Tr. 127) as a result of neck and back pain from a car accident on March 12, 2012, migraines, and leg, ankle, and knee pain. (Tr. 145). Her application was denied initially and again on reconsideration. (Tr. 70, 88). Administrative Law Judge Michael Nichols (“ALJ Nichols”) conducted a hearing in Louisville, Kentucky, on July 1, 2015. (Tr. 32-33). Bartolomei attended the hearing with her attorney. (Id.). Gail Franklin, an impartial vocational expert testified at the hearing. (Id.). ALJ Nichols issued an unfavorable decision on November 17, 2015. (Tr. 26).

         ALJ Nichols applied the traditional five-step sequential analysis promulgated by the Commissioner, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, Kyle v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 609 F.3d 847, 855 (6th Cir. 2010), and found as follows. First, Bartolomei has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her application date, May 16, 2013. (Tr. 19). Second, Bartolomei has the severe impairments of “bipolar disorder versus mood disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, borderline intellectual functioning and headaches[.]” (Id.). Third, none of Bartolomei's impairments or combination of impairments meets or medically equals the severity of a listed impairment from 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1. (Tr. 20). Fourth, Bartolomei has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform “a full range of work at all exertional levels” with the following nonexertional limitations:

Seizure precautions should be observed. The claimant is limited to simple tasks. The claimant is limited to work that is not fast paced or quota driven. The claimant should not engage in work that requires interaction with the public. The claimant is limited to occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors.

(Tr. 21). Additionally, Bartolomei has no past relevant work. (Tr. 25). Fifth and finally, considering Bartolomei's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she can perform. (Id.).

         Bartolomei appealed ALJ Nichols' decision. (Tr. 12). The Appeals Council declined review. (Tr. 1). At that point, the denial became the final decision of the Commissioner, and Bartolomei appealed to this Court. (DN 1).


         A. Standard of Review

         When reviewing the Administrative Law Judge's decision to deny disability benefits, the Court may “not try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of credibility.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). Instead, the Court's review of the Administrative Law Judge's decision is limited to an inquiry as to whether the Administrative Law Judge's findings were supported by substantial evidence, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 353 (6th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted), and whether the Administrative Law Judge employed the proper legal standards in reaching her conclusion. See 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 v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 692, 695 (6th Cir. 1993).

         B. Analysis

         Bartolomei challenges ALJ Nichols' decision in four respects, which ...

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