United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Brent Brennenstuhl, United States Magistrate Judge
the Court is the complaint (DN 1) of Mary Fraze
(“Plaintiff") seeking judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN 18) and Defendant (DN 19) have
filed a Fact and Law Summary. For the reasons that follow,
the final decision of the Commissioner is
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 16). By Order
entered August 20, 2018 (DN 15), the parties were notified
that oral arguments would not be held unless a written
request therefor was filed and granted. No. such request was
April 17, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed an application
for Disability Insurance benefits and an application for
Supplemental Security Income (Tr. 15, 269, 276). Plaintiff
alleged that she became disabled on April 19, 2013, as a
result of a bulging disc in her neck, bilateral carpal tunnel
syndrome, hypertension, a left shoulder problem, and other
back problems (Tr. 15, 353). Administrative Law Judge Jerry
Lovitt (“ALJ") conducted a hearing on July 14,
2017, in Louisville, Kentucky (Tr. 15, 40-42). Plaintiff was
present and represented by attorney Kevin McDowell
(Id.). Sharon Lane testified as a vocational expert
during the hearing (Id.).
decision dated August 23, 2017, the ALJ evaluated this adult
disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential
evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr.
15-32). At the first step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had
worked various jobs through temporary employment agencies in
2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 (Tr. 17-18). The ALJ considered
Plaintiff's earnings in each of those years and concluded
that Plaintiff had engaged in substantial gainful activity
from April 1, 2015 through December 31, 2015 (Id.).
However, the ALJ concluded that it was not necessary to
determine unequivocally whether Plaintiff's work activity
constituted disqualifying substantial gainful activity at the
first step because there existed a valid basis for denying
her application at a subsequent step in the sequential
evaluation process (Tr. 18). The ALJ indicated that he
considered Plaintiff's considerable work activity after
her alleged onset date of April 19, 2013, when evaluating the
severity of her symptoms, as well as the consistency of her
testimony with the overall record (Id.).
second step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the
following “severe” impairments: degenerative disc
disease, degenerative joint disease of the left shoulder,
depression, and anxiety disorder (Tr. 18). Notably, at the
second step, the ALJ also determined that Plaintiff's
hypertension was a “non-severe” inpairment
because the condition was well-controlled with medication and
did not affect Plaintiff's ability to engage in basic
work related tasks (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 (Id.). The
ALJ specifically explained why he concluded that Plaintiff
did not meet or medically equal Listings 1.04, 1.02, 12.04,
and 12.06 (Tr. 18-20).
fourth step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the residual
functional capacity to perform less than a full range of
light work because she can frequently climb ramps and stairs;
only occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; she can
never climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds; she should not work
around unprotected heights and hazards such as machinery with
moving parts; she should have only occasional exposure to
vibration; she is limited to frequent reaching overhead and
laterally with the left arm, as well as frequent handling
with the left hand and fine fingering with the left hand; she
is able to sustain concentration to complete short, simple,
repetitive, routine tasks; she can use judgment in making
simple work-related decisions consistent with this type of
work; she requires an occupation with set routine and
procedures and with few changes during the workday, and with
frequent contact with supervisors, coworkers and the general
public, and where the incumbent worker is able to tolerate no
more than moderate levels of noise as defined in Appendix D
of the selected characteristics of occupations 1993 edition;
she would be expected to be off task no more than 10% of the
workday in addition to normally scheduled breaks (Tr. 20-21).
on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work as
a mail sorter (DOT 209.687-026). Therefore, the ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff has not been under a “disability,"
as defined in the Social Security Act, from April 19, 2013,
the alleged onset of disability, through August 23, 2017, the
date of the decision (Tr. 32). Plaintiff timely filed a
request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's
decision (Tr. 266-68). The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-3).
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)).
previously mentioned, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's 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 ...