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Phillips v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 29, 2018

LILLIAN MARIE PHILLIPS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Colin Lindsay, Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court is the complaint (DN 1) of plaintiff Lillian Marie Phillips (“Phillips”) filed on January 17, 2017. In her complaint, Phillips seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”). See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2012) (“Any individual, after any final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security . . . may obtain a review of such decision by a civil action commenced within sixty days after the mailing to him of notice of such decision . . . .”). Phillips filed a Fact and Law Summary (DN 15). The Commissioner also filed a Fact and Law Summary (DN 18).

         The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge to enter judgment in this case with direct review by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the event an appeal is filed (DN 14). Therefore, this matter is ripe for review. For the reasons set forth below, the final decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Phillips filed an application for supplemental security income on January 8, 2013, alleging that she became disabled on October 1, 2006. (Tr. 41.)

         On July 22, 2015, Administrative Law Judge William C. Zuber (“the ALJ”) conducted a hearing on her application. (Id. at 41.) Phillips did not attend her hearing, but claimant representative Kevin McDowell attended the hearing on her behalf. (Id. at 58.) Mr. Robert G. Piper, a vocational expert (“VE”), testified at the hearing. (Id. at 41.) In a decision dated November 25, 2015, the ALJ engaged in the five-step evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner to determine whether an individual is disabled. (Id. at 50.) In doing so, the ALJ made the following findings.

         1. Phillips has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 8, 2013, the alleged onset date. (Id. at 43.)

         2. Phillips has the following medically determinable impairments: hepatitis, asthma, and a history of cervical and lumbar strains. (Id.)

         3. Phillips does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id. at 46.)

         4. Phillips has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of light work. (Id.)

         5. Phillips is capable of performing her past relevant work as a house worker, general. (Id. at 49.)

         6. Phillips has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 8, 2013, the date that her application was filed, through the date of the decision. (Id. at 49-50.)

         Phillips timely requested an appeal to the Appeals Council on December 2, 2015. (Id. at 36.) On November 23, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Phillips's request for review. (Id. at 1.) At that point, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 422.210(a); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(h) (discussing finality of the Commissioner's decision). Phillips timely filed this action on January 17, 2017. (DN 1.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         The Social Security Act authorizes payment of supplemental social security benefits to persons with disabilities. Social Security Act, Supplemental Social Security Income, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85 (2012). An individual shall be considered disabled if “he is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a).

         A. Standard of Review

         In conducting its review, the Court “may not try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in evidence, nor decide questions of credibility." Garner v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984) (citing Myers v. Richardson, 471 F.2d 1265 (6th Cir. 1972)). Rather, the Court's review is limited to determining whether the findings set forth in the final decision of the Commissioner are supported by “substantial evidence" and that the correct legal standards were applied. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Gayheart v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 710 F.3d 365, 374 (6th Cir. 2013); Cole v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 661 F.3d 931, 937 (6th Cir. 2011). If the answer is Ayes, " then the Court may not even inquire as to whether the record could support a decision the other way. Smith v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 893 F.2d 106, 108 (6th Cir. 1989).

         “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. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 2 F.3d 692, 695 (6th Cir. 1993) (quoting Casey v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Therefore, A[a] reviewing court will affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on substantial evidence, even if substantial evidence would also have supported the opposite conclusion." Gayheart, 710 F.3d at 374.

         B. Five-Step Sequential Evaluation Process

         The Commissioner has promulgated regulations that set forth a five-step sequential evaluation process that an ALJ must follow in evaluating a disability claim. 20 C.F.R. §§ ...


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