United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division
SARAH M. MAY PLAINTIFF
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Brent Brennenstuhl United States Magistrate Judge
the Court is the complaint (DN 1) of Sarah M. May seeking
judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN
15) and Defendant (DN 20) have filed a Fact and Law Summary.
For the reasons that follow, the final decision of the
Commissioner is REVERSED, and this matter is REMANDED
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to the Commissioner for
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 July 23, 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.
filed a Title II application for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits on August 1, 2014 (Tr.
212-227). She also protectively filed a Title XVI application
for supplemental security income on August 1, 2014. In both
applications, May alleged that she became disabled on July
27, 2014 as a result of depression, fibromyalgia, anxiety,
and tinnitus (Tr. 254). Administrative Law Judge Lisa R. Hall
("ALJ") conducted a hearing on January 17, 2017.
The conference was held via video conference with the ALJ
presiding from Paducah. May and her counsel, Sara J. Martin,
appeared in Owensboro, Kentucky. James B. Adams an impartial
vocational expert also appeared and testified at the hearing.
decision dated August 8, 2017, the ALJ evaluated this adult
disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential
evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr.
17-26). At the first step, the ALJ found May has not engaged
in substantial gainful activity since July 27, 2014, the
alleged onset date (Tr. 19). At the second step, the ALJ
determined that May's depression and anxiety are
"severe" impairments within the meaning of the
regulations (Tr. 20). Notably, at the second step, the ALJ
also determined that May's degenerative disc disease is a
"non-severe" impairment within the meaning of the
regulations (Tr. 20). At the third step, the ALJ concluded
that May does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed
impairments in Appendix 1 (Tr. 21).
fourth step, the ALJ found May has the residual functional
capacity to perform the full range of work at all exertional
levels with non-exertional limitations (Tr. 22). More
specifically, the ALJ found that May should avoid climbing
ladders and avoid moderate exposure to hazards such as
unprotected heights or moving/dangerous machinery. She can
perform simple, routine, repetitive work tasks, meaning tasks
that apply commonsense understanding to carry out
instructions furnished in written, oral, or diagrammatic
form, with the ability to deal with problems involving
several concrete variables in or from standardized
situations. She can frequently interact with co-workers and
supervisors but only occasionally interact with the general
public. She should not work in a fast-paced or
production-based work environment but could do entry-level or
goal-oriented work (Tr. 22). Relying on testimony from the
vocational expert, the ALJ found that May is unable to
perform any of her past relevant work (Tr. 24).
proceeded to the fifth step where she considered May's
residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work
experience as well as testimony from the vocational expert
(Tr. 25). The ALJ found that May is capable of performing a
significant number of jobs that exist in the national economy
(Tr. 25). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that May has not been
under a "disability," as defined in the Social
Security Act, from July 27, 2014 through the date of the
decision (Tr. 26).
timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the
ALJ's decision (Tr. 141-42). The Appeals Council denied
May's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr.
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 May's
request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-7). 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
Commissioner's Sequential Evaluation Process
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