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Williams v. Berryhill

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

March 26, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner Of Social Security, Defendant.



         Kathy Williams seeks judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, which denied her claim for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits. Ms. Williams 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. William's Motion for Summary Judgment and GRANT the Commissioner's.



         Plaintiff Kathy Williams initially filed an application for Title II disability insurance benefits on June 5, 2013, alleging disability beginning on May 6, 2010. [Transcript (hereinafter, “Tr.”) 303.] Ms. Williams's claims were initially denied by an Administrative Law Judge, who subsequently conducted a hearing with Ms. Williams on March 21, 2014. Id. at 264. On June 19, 2015, the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision denying Ms. Williams's claims for benefits. Id. at 146.

         To evaluate a claim of disability for Title II disability insurance benefit claims, an ALJ conducts a five-step analysis. Compare 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (disability insurance benefit claim) with 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 (claims for supplemental security income).[1] First, if a claimant is performing a substantial gainful activity, he 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 his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, he 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, he is “disabled.” C.F.R. § 404.1530(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 assess an individual's ability to perform certain physical and metal 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 claimant has the RFC to perform the requirements of his past relevant work, and if a claimant's impairments do not prevent him from doing past relevant work, he is not “disabled.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). Fifth, if a claimant's impairments (considering his RFC, age, education, and past work) prevent him from doing other work that exists in the national economy, then he 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 his lack of residual functional capacity. Id.; Jordan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 548 F.3d 417, 423 (6th Cir. 2008).

         At the outset of this case, the ALJ determined that Ms. Williams met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2017. Tr. 151; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.131. Then at step one, the ALJ found Ms. Williams had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability onset date, May 6, 2010. Tr. 151. At step two, the ALJ found Ms. Williams to suffer from the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, obesity, asthma, and systemic lupus erythematosus. Id. At step three, the ALJ determined her combination of impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404 or Part 416. Id. at 153. Before moving on to step four, the ALJ considered the record and determined that Ms. Williams possessed the following residual functioning capacity:

[Ms. Williams] has the residual functional capacity to perform a range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R 404.1567(b) as follows: lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; stand and walk six hours of an eight hour day; sit six hours of an eight hour day; frequently push and pull with the bilateral upper and lower extremities up to the exertional limitations; frequently reach overhead and in all other directions; frequently handle, finger, and feel; occasionally climb ramps and stairs but never ropes or scaffolds; and occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. She should avoid all exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights and moving machinery; should avoid exposure to dust, fumes, and pulmonary irritants; extreme cold and vibration; and should avoid all occupations involving exposure to sunlight.

Id. at 153-54. After explaining the RFC, the ALJ found at step four that, based on this RFC, her age, education, and work experience, Ms. Williams is capable of performing past relevant work as a data entry clerk, as well as other jobs existing in the national economy. Id. at 156. Accordingly, the ALJ found at step five that Ms. Williams was not disabled from May 6, 2010, through the date of the decision, pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f). Id. at 157.

         Following the unfavorable decision of the ALJ, Ms. Williams appealed to the Appeals Council. Her request for review was denied on July 19, 2016. Id. at 1. Ms. Williams thereafter filed this action on September 7, 2016. [R. 1.]


         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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