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Houchens v. Colwin

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

September 12, 2018

ANITA J. HOUCHENS PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, 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 Anita J. Houchens ("Plaintiff") 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. For the reasons that follow, judgment is granted for the Commissioner.

         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 February 20, 2018 (DN 12), 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 April 29, 2013 [1] (Tr. 8, 184-85). Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled on December 10, 2012, because of depression, panic attacks, anxiety attacks, emotional issues, nerve issues, degenerative disc disease, chronic back pain, asthmatic bronchitis, chronic cough, and allergies (Tr. 8, 202). Administrative Law Judge John R. Price ("ALJ") conducted a video hearing from Louisville, Kentucky on June 23, 2014 (Tr. 8, 58-60). Plaintiff and her attorney, Charles Dale Burchett, participated in the hearing from Bowling Green, Kentucky (Id.). Also present and testifying was William R. Harpool, an impartial vocational expert (Id.).

         In a decision dated July 25, 2014, the ALJ evaluated this adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 8-16). At the first step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 10, 2012, the alleged onset date (Tr. 10). At the second step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following "severe" impairments: lumbar degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease of the hip, sinus congestion, anxiety, and depression (Id.). 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. 10-11).

         At the fourth step, the ALJ made the following finding with regard to Plaintiffs residual functional capacity:

After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to lift a maximum of up to 20 lbs. occasionally and 10 lbs. frequently; can stand/walk 2/8 hours and sit for 6/8 hours with a sit/stand option at 30 minute intervals with 1-2 minutes for the change; no climbing of ladders/ropes/scaffolds; occasional climbing of ramps/stairs, bending, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; must avoid concentrated dust, gas, fumes and pulmonary irritants; only simple, routine, 1-2 step tasks in a low stress setting with no fast-paced or production rate demands or quotas; no interaction with the general public or settings with crowds of greater than 10 people; and only occasional, superficial interaction with coworkers/supervisors.

(Tr. 11-12). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any of her past relevant work (Tr. 15).

         The ALJ proceeded to the fifth step where he considered Plaintiffs residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience as well as testimony from the vocational expert (Tr. 15-16). The ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing a significant No. of jobs that exist in the national economy (Tr. 16). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a "disability," as defined in the Social Security Act, from December 10, 2012 through the date of the decision, July 25, 2014 (Id., ).

         Plaintiff timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 54-56). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-3).

         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 Plaintiffs request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-3). 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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