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Sattelberg v. Berryhill

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

June 28, 2018

VICKIE L. SATTELBERG 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 Vickie L. Sattelberg ("Plaintiff”) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN 17) and Defendant (DN 22) have filed a Fact and Law Summary. For the reasons that follow, the final decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

         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 13). By Order entered November 20, 2017 (DN 14), 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

         Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on July 11, 2013 (Tr. 207). Plaintiff originally alleged that she became disabled on October 1, 2011, as a result of depression, chronic back pain, chronic leg pain, chronic hip pain, and insomnia (Tr. 15, 251). On May 11, 2016, Administrative Law Judge Lisa R. Hall ("ALJ”) conducted a video hearing from Paducah, Kentucky (Tr. 15, 66-68). Plaintiff and her attorney, Sara J. Martin, participated in the video hearing from Owensboro, Kentucky (Id.). Kenneth Boaz also participated in the video hearing from Paducah and testified as a vocational expert (Id.). During the video hearing, Plaintiff amended the alleged disability onset date to May 18, 2013 (Tr. 15, 69-71).

         In a decision dated June 7, 2016, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2017 (Tr. 17). The ALJ evaluated this adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 15-30). At the first step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 18, 2013, the amended alleged onset date (Tr. 17). At the second step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following “severe” impairments: degenerative disc disease and obesity (Id.). The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff's depression and anxiety are “non-severe” impairments (Tr. 17-19). 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 (Tr. 19).

         At the fourth step, the ALJ made the following finding with regard to Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC):

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except as follows: She can lift, carry, push, and/or pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She can sit, stand, and walk for at least 6 hours each during a routine 8-hour workday. She can occasionally engage in postural activities.

(Tr. 19). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work as a taxi dispatcher, telephone solicitor, customer service clerk, and sales clerk supervisor (Tr. 29). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a “disability, ” as defined in the Social Security Act, from May 18, 2013, through the date of the decision, June 7, 2013 (Tr. 30).

         Plaintiff timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 205-06). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 2-7).

         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 Amay 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 Plaintiffs request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 2-7). 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 C.F.R. § 404.981; Cline v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 96 F.3d 146, 148 (6th Cir. 1996); Cotton v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 692, 695-696 (6th Cir. 1993).

         The Commissioner's Sequential Evaluation Process The Social Security Act authorizes payment of Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income to persons with disabilities. 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. (Title II Disability Insurance Benefits), 1381 et seq. (Title XVI Supplemental Security Income). The term Adisability" is defined as an

[I]nability 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 (12) months.

42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) (Title II), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (Title XVI); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a); Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 214 (2002); Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990).

         The Commissioner has promulgated regulations setting forth a five-step sequential evaluation process for evaluating a disability claim. See “Evaluation of disability in general, ” 20 C.F.R. §§ ...


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