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Sandidge v. Berryhill

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

June 21, 2019

LINDA T. SANDIDGE 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 Linda T. Sandidge (“Plaintiff”) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN 11) and Defendant (DN 16) have filed a Fact and Law Summary. For the reasons that follow, the final decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED and 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 9). By Order entered December 21, 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 filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on August 31, 2015 (Tr. 11, 150-53). Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled on March 1, 2015, as a result of lumbar degenerative disc disease, lumbar spondylosis, lumbar radiculopathy, fibromyalgia, hypertension, and anxiety (Tr. 11, 169). On November 7, 2017, Administrative Law Judge Maribeth McMahon (“ALJ”) conducted a video hearing Paducah, Kentucky (Tr. 11, 23-61). Plaintiff and her counsel, Samuel Kyle LeMar, participated from Madisonville, Kentucky (Id.). Christopher Brian Rymond, an impartial vocational expert, also participated and testified during the hearing (Tr. 23-61, 242-45).

         In a decision dated March 14, 2018, the ALJ evaluated this adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 11-18). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on September 30, 2017 (Tr. 13). At the first step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 1, 2015 the alleged onset date (Id.). At the second step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis of the bilateral hips, degenerative disc disease, and chronic myalgia (Id.). The ALJ also concluded that Plaintiff's blood pressure, anxiety disorder, and affective disorder are non-severe impairments (Tr. 13-14). 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, through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) “except she can occasionally climb ramps/stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl but should never climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds or work around vibrations, unprotected heights, or dangerous machinery” (Tr. 15). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ found, through the date last insured, Plaintiff was able to perform past relevant work as an administrative assistant (Tr. 18). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from March 1, 2015, the alleged onset date, through September 30, 2017, the date last insured (Id.).

         Plaintiff timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 147-49). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (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 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 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 Cir. 1993).

         The Commissioner's Sequential Evaluation Process The 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 XVI Supplemental Security Income). The term “disability” is defined as an

[I]nability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve (12) months.

42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) (Title II), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (Title XVI); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a); Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 214 (2002); Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990).

         The Commissioner has promulgated regulations setting forth a five-step sequential evaluation process for evaluating a disability claim. See “Evaluation of disability in general, ” 20 C.F.R. §§ ...


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