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Logsdon v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 22, 2018




         Plaintiff Mary Malone Logsdon filed this action seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security to deny her application for disability-insurance benefits. (Docket No. 1) Logsdon alleges disability due to arthritis and nervousness caused by depression and anxiety. (D.N. 12-1, PageID # 498) Logsdon has now moved for summary judgment, requesting that the Court remand this case to the agency for payment of benefits or further administrative proceedings. (D.N. 12; D.N. 12-1) The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Colin H. Lindsay for report and recommendation. (D.N. 11) Judge Lindsay issued Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation on February 22, 2018, recommending that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed. (D.N. 17) Logsdon timely filed objections to Judge Lindsay's report and recommendation. (D.N. 18) After careful consideration, the Court concludes that only one of Logsdon's objections has merit. Sustaining that objection, however, requires reversal and remand of the case to the Commissioner of Social Security.


         On August 5, 2013, Logsdon filed an application for disability-insurance benefits. (D.N. 10-5, PageID # 292-98) The Commissioner denied the application on November 7, 2013, and again upon reconsideration on January 6, 2014. (D.N. 10-4, PageID # 171-74, 184-90) Logsdon thereafter requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. (Id., PageID # 176) Administrative Law Judge John R. Price held a hearing on April 21, 2015. (D.N. 10-2, PageID # 101-10) The ALJ held another hearing via videoconference on August 13, 2015. (Id., PageID # 73-100) On October 7, 2015, the ALJ issued an opinion finding Logsdon not disabled. (Id., PageID # 51-71) The ALJ determined that Logsdon possessed the residual functional capacity (RFC)[1] necessary to perform “light work” as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b). (Id., PageID # 60-65) Further, the ALJ found Logsdon capable of performing her past relevant work as a sewing-machine operator. (Id., PageID # 65) The appeals council denied Logsdon's request for review on October 26, 2016. (Id., PageID # 44-48)

         Logsdon filed this action on December 1, 2016, challenging the denial of her application for disability-insurance benefits. (D.N. 1) Logsdon has moved for summary judgment (D.N. 12), arguing that the ALJ erred in finding that her only severe impairments were generalized arthritis and a history of obesity, assessing her RFC, determining that she could perform her past relevant work, and concluding that she was not disabled. (D.N. 12-1) Magistrate Judge Colin H. Lindsay issued a report and recommendation on February 22, 2018. (D.N. 11; D.N. 17) Judge Lindsay recommends that this Court affirm the Commissioner's decision. (D.N. 17, PageID # 559) As discussed below, the Court's disagreement with the report and recommendation is limited to its analysis of Logsdon's argument that the ALJ did not properly consider her lack of insurance as a reason for her failure to obtain medical treatment for some conditions. (See id., PageID # 547) Because the ALJ relied heavily upon Logsdon's lack of treatment in concluding that her complaints regarding her conditions were less than credible, however, remand is required.


         When reviewing a report and recommendation, this Court reviews de novo “those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). The Court may adopt without review any portion of the report to which an objection is not made. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985). On review, the Court “may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). Accordingly, the Court will review de novo the portions of Judge Lindsay's report and recommendation to which Logsdon objects to determine whether relief is warranted.

         As detailed in Judge Lindsay's report and recommendation, the Commissioner has promulgated regulations setting forth a five-step sequential process for evaluating whether a claimant is disabled. (D.N. 17, PageID # 542-43 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520)) Only steps four and five are at issue in Logsdon's objections. (D.N. 18, PageID # 561, 573) At step four, the ALJ compares the claimant's RFC with the physical and mental demands of her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). If the claimant can still do that kind of work, then the Commissioner will find that she is not disabled, and the analysis ends there. Id. The claimant has the burden of proof at step four. Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 529 (6th Cir. 1997). At step five, the ALJ considers the claimant's RFC with her age, education, and work experience to determine whether she can make an adjustment to other work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). If the claimant cannot make such an adjustment, then the Commissioner will find that she is disabled. Id. The Commissioner has the burden of proof at step five. Walters, 127 F.3d at 529.

         In reviewing an ALJ's decision, the Court asks “whether it is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards.” Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). “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. (quoting Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994)). The Court “may not try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in evidence, nor decide questions of credibility.” Cohen v. Sec'y of Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 964 F.2d 524, 528 (6th Cir. 1992) (quoting Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984)). Where substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, the Court “must affirm.” Staymate v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 681 Fed.Appx. 462, 466 (6th Cir. 2017) (citing Barker v. Shalala, 40 F.3d 789, 794 (6th Cir. 1994)). Moreover, “[t]he findings of the [ALJ] are not subject to reversal merely because there exists in the record substantial evidence to support a different conclusion.” Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772-73 (6th Cir. 2001); see also Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999) (“Even if the evidence could also support another conclusion, the decision of the Administrative Law Judge must stand if the evidence could reasonably support the conclusion reached.”).


         A. The ALJ's RFC Assessment

         First, Logsdon argues that the ALJ “erred as a matter of law in assessing [her] RFC in Finding No. 5 of his decision and this finding is not supported by substantial evidence.” (D.N. 18, PageID # 562) Logsdon's objections identify several issues with the ALJ's assessment; the Court will discuss each one in turn.

         Logsdon challenges the ALJ's failure to find that she had severe arthritis in her lower back, knees, and feet. (Id.) Specifically, Logsdon argues that this severe arthritis prevented her from standing for eight hours per day and operating foot controls on a frequent basis, both of which were a necessary part of her past relevant work. (Id.) But the ALJ found that Logsdon had two severe impairments: generalized arthritis and a history of obesity. (D.N. 10-2, PageID # 56) After an ALJ finds one severe impairment, he must continue with the remaining steps in his disability evaluation. Maziarz v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 837 F.2d 240, 244 (6th Cir. 1987). Thus, an ALJ does not commit reversible error by failing to list additional severe impairments because she was already required to consider all impairments, severe and nonsevere, in the remaining steps of the analysis. See Kepke v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 636 Fed.Appx. 625, 634 (6th Cir. 2016) (rejecting argument that ALJ reversibly erred by failing to also list thyroid disease as a severe impairment where ALJ found several other severe impairments). The record here shows that the ALJ considered Logsdon's arthritis in her knees, lower back, and feet when determining her RFC. (D.N. 10-2, PageID # 60-65) The Court therefore agrees with Judge Lindsay that the ALJ did not reversibly err in this regard. (D.N. 17, PageID # 545-46) See Kepke, 636 Fed.Appx. at 634 (concluding that ALJ did not reversibly err by failing to list thyroid disease as severe impairment where record showed that ALJ considered thyroid disease in determining claimant's RFC).

         Logsdon also argues that the ALJ wrongly found her subjective complaints regarding her physical and mental limitations to be less than credible, partly due to her lack of treatment for those limitations. (D.N. 18, PageID # 562) Specifically, Logsdon asserts that the ALJ and Judge Lindsay failed to fully consider the fact that she lacked health insurance and could not afford the ...

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