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Johnson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

June 19, 2019

TONYA JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CLARIA HORN BOOM, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Tonya Johnson (“Johnson”) brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g); 1383(c)(3) and 5 U.S.C. § 706 to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision denying her claims for Supplemental Security Income Benefits. [R. 1, Compl.] The Parties filed cross Motions for Summary Judgment pursuant to the Court's Standing Scheduling Order. [R. 12; R. 19; R. 23] Because Johnson has exhausted her administrative remedies, her claims are ripe for review by this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The Court, having reviewed the Motions, the briefs in support, and the entire record, will AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision because it is supported by substantial evidence and was decided by the proper legal standards, DENY Johnson's Motion for Summary Judgment, and GRANT the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On April 26, 2016, Johnson filed applications for Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income Benefits, alleging disability beginning November 11, 2015 due to various impairments. [Administrative Record (“AR”) at 206-14, 73] These impairments included degenerative disc disease, obesity, depression, and anxiety. [AR at 25] Johnson also alleged other impairments of ovarian cysts, headaches, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, feet and legs swelling and hurting, spasms of the cervical spine, arthritis, and memory issues. [AR at 26].

         Johnson's application and the reconsideration of her application were denied. [AR at 97-98, 125-126] Johnson sought review and was heard before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), who found that Johnson was not disabled. [AR at 23-34] In denying her claim, the ALJ used the five-step sequential process outlined in the regulations under the Social Security Act. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(e); see Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 529 (6th Cir. 1997).

         At step one, the ALJ determined that Johnson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”) since November 11, 2015 (the alleged onset date). [AR at 25]

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Johnson had several severe impairments: “degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; obesity; depression; and anxiety, ” and that her remaining alleged impairments were non-severe in nature. [AR at 25]

         At step three, the ALJ determined that Johnson did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. [AR at 27]

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Johnson had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work [AR at 30], as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) with “non-exertional limitations.” [AR at 33]

         At step five, the ALJ determined that, considering the RFC described above, Johnson was able to perform past relevant work. [AR at 33] Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Johnson was not disabled.

         Johnson appealed the ALJ's decision before the Appeals Council. [AR at 1-5] However, the Appeals Council denied Johnson's Request for Review of the ALJ's initial decision. [AR at 1-5] Thereafter, Johnson filed this action for court review of the ALJ's decision. [R. 1, Compl.]

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court must uphold the Commissioner's decision “absent a determination that the Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standards or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.” Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 735 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The Court may decide only whether the Commissioner's decision “is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards.” Rabbers v. Comm'r Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. 2009). Substantial evidence is defined as “more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 285-86 (6th Cir. 1994). “The substantial evidence standard is met if a reasonable mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to support a conclusion.” Longworth v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005). “[E]ven if there is substantial evidence in the record that would have supported an opposite conclusion, so long as substantial evidence supports the conclusion reached by the ALJ, ” the Court must uphold the Commissioner's decision. Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 475 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997)). The Court cannot review the case de novo, resolve conflicts of evidence, or decide questions of credibility. Nelson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 195 Fed. App'x. 462, 468 (6th Cir. 2006); Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Johnson argues that she should be awarded benefits for four main reasons. First, Johnson argues that the lay testimony from the hearing proves that she is totally disabled. [R. 19-1, Pl. Mem. in Supp., at pp. 14-15] Second, Johnson argues that the vocational expert's (the “VE”) testimony proves that she is totally disabled. Id. at p. 15. Third, Johnson argues that the ALJ committed reversible error in failing to apply the appropriate standard for pain under controlling Sixth Circuit precedent. Id. at pp. 15-17. Finally, Johnson argues that benefits should be awarded because “the overwhelming weight of treating and examining physician opinions prove that [she] is disabled.” Id. at pp. 17-18. Some of Johnson's arguments include only conclusory statements without presenting any supporting evidence. Though the Court is not required to formulate an argument when the Claimant fails to do so, the Court will consider the evidence and address each of Johnson's arguments in turn. Fulks v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 6:12-CV-00227-KKC, 2013 WL 4049529, at *2 (E.D. Ky. Aug. 9, 2013) (citing Hollon ex re. Hollon v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 447 F.3d 477, 490-91 (6th Cir. 2006)).

         A. The ALJ did not err in evaluating ...


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