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Gillaspie v. Berryhill

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

July 10, 2018

CARLA GILLASPIE 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 Plaintiff Carla Gillaspie seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN 13) and Defendant (DN 18) 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 11). By Order entered January 31, 2018 (DN 10), 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 protectively filed an application for Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income Benefits on July 20, 2016 (Tr. 268, 270, 277). Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled on May 23, 2015 as a result of degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, chronic migraines, major depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, COPD, and high cholesterol (Tr. 270, 301). Administrative Law Judge Maribeth McMahon (“ALJ”) conducted a hearing on March 14, 2017 in Paducah, Kentucky. Plaintiff was present and represented by attorney Sara Martin. Also present and testifying was vocational expert James Adams.

         In a decision dated June 25, 2017, the ALJ evaluated this adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 8-28). At the first step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 23, 2014, the alleged onset date (Tr. 14). At the second step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease, migraines, depression, and anxiety are “severe” impairments within the meaning of the regulations (Tr. 14). 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. 15).

         At the fourth step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of light work (Tr. 16). The ALJ assessed the following limitations:

Specifically, the claimant may lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She may frequently push and/or pull with the lower extremities bilaterally. She may sit, stand, and/or walk for 30 minutes at a time each, up to 4 hours each in an 8-hour workday. She may never climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds. She may frequently climb ramps/stairs. She may frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, vibration, unprotected heights, and moving machinery. She is able to understand, remember, and carry out simple 1 to 2 step instructions. She is able to make simple, workrelated decisions. She is able to have occasional interaction with the public and frequent interaction with supervisors and coworkers. She should avoid confusing, complex, distracting, or fast-paced work.

         (Tr. 16). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any of her past relevant work as an administrative assistant (Tr. 21).

         The ALJ proceeded to the fifth step where she considered Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience as well as testimony from the vocational expert (Tr. 22-23). The ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing a significant number of jobs that exist in the national economy (Tr. 23). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a “disability, ” as defined in the Social Security Act, from July 20, 2016, through the date of the decision (Tr. 23).

         Plaintiff timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 266-67). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-5).

         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 “may 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 Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-5). 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 ...


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