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Daugherty v. Saul

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

July 9, 2019

VICKIE LYNN DAUGHERTY PLAINTIFF
v.
ANDREW SAUL, COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION[1] DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          H. Brent Brennenstuhl United States Magistrate Judge.

         BACKGROUND

         Before the Court is the complaint (DN 1) of Vickie Lynn Daugherty (“Plaintiff”) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN 12) and Defendant (DN 13) 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 10). By Order entered March 5, 2019 (DN 11), 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

         On January 12, 2016, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (Tr. 21, 211-17). Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled on May 1, 2011, as a result of thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP), visual impairment, and high blood pressure (Tr. 21, 232). On January 24, 2018, Administrative Law Judge Maribeth McMahon (“ALJ”) conducted a video hearing from Paducah, Kentucky (Tr. 21, 33-82). Plaintiff and her attorney, Steven Wilson, participated from Owensboro, Kentucky (Id.). Kenneth Boaz, an impartial vocational expert, also testified during the hearing (Id.).

         In a decision dated June 11, 2018, the ALJ evaluated this adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 21-28). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2015 (Tr. 23). At the first step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 1, 2011, through her date last insured (Id.). At the second step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: blurred vision; history of TTP; and history of migraine headaches (Id.). The ALJ also found that Plaintiff's high blood pressure, back problems, and anxiety are non-severe impairments (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. 23). The ALJ indicated that she specifically considered Listings 1.00, 2.00, 4.00, 11.00, 12.00, and 14.00 and concluded the medical evidence failed to demonstrate a listing level of severity with respect to any listed impairment on a sustained basis (Id.).

         At the fourth step, the ALJ found through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(c) subject to the following: no exposure to unprotected heights, dangerous machinery, or vibration; no balancing; no driving; she would have been able to read only normal print with glasses; and she did not have the depth perception or the required peripheral vision to be able to judge distance (Tr. 24). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work through the date last insured (Tr. 26).

         The ALJ proceeded to the fifth step where he considered Plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and past work experience as well as testimony from the vocational expert (Tr. 27-28). The ALJ found through the date last insured Plaintiff could have performed a significant number of jobs that exist in the national economy (Id.). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not been under a “disability, ” as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from her alleged onset date of May 1, 2011, through her date last insured of December 31, 2015 (Tr. 28).

         Plaintiff timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 208-10). 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. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. In summary, the evaluation proceeds as follows:

1) Is the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity?
2) Does the claimant have a medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments that satisfies the duration requirement and significantly limits his or her ...

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