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Goldsberry v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 24, 2019

APRIL ROSE GOLDSBERRY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT E. WIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         April Goldsberry appeals the Commissioner's denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.[1] The parties filed dueling summary judgment motions. The Court, having considered the full record under governing law, GRANTS the Commissioner's motion (DE #14) and DENIES Goldsberry's motion (DE #12) because substantial evidence supports the findings resulting in the administrative decision, and the decision rests on proper legal standards.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Goldsberry is currently 27 years old. See, e.g., R. at 45. She alleges disability beginning on July 26, 2014. See R. at 135. Goldsberry applied for benefits in August 2016. Id. The SSA denied her claim initially on December 20, 2016, see R. at 66-69, and upon reconsideration on March 21, 2017. See R. at 73-75. Goldsberry then filed a written request for a hearing in early May 2017. R. at 80-81. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Joyce Francis held a hearing on the application on November 30, 2017. R. at 26-43. At the hearing, attorney Ronald Cox represented Goldsberry. R. at 26. Claimant and impartial vocational expert Jackie Rogers testified. R. at 27-42. The ALJ subsequently denied Goldsberry's claims on March 28, 2018. R. at 10-19. The Appeals Council denied review, and thus upheld the ALJ's decision, on June 14, 2018. R. at 1-3.

         The ALJ made several particular findings in the required sequence. She determined that Goldsberry did not engage in substantial gainful activity from August 9, 2016, through the date of decision. R. at 15. The ALJ next determined that Goldsberry had a severe impairment. Id. However, ALJ Francis then found that Goldsberry did “not have an impairment or combination of impairments that [met] or medically equal[ed] the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” R. at 15-16. The ALJ further made a detailed residual functional capacity (RFC) finding. R. at 16-18. Although ALJ Francis found that Goldsberry “has no past relevant work, ” the ALJ determined that “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Goldsberry] can perform[.]” R. at 18-19. Based on these considerations, the ALJ ruled that Goldsberry was not under a disability from August 9, 2016, through the date of decision. See R. at 13, 19. Unsatisfied with the result of the SSA's administrative process, Goldsberry turned to federal court for review.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         The Court has carefully read the ALJ's decision, the transcript of the administrative hearing, and the entire administrative record. The Court has turned every apt sheet, primarily focusing on the portions of the record to which the parties specifically cite. See DE #11 (General Order 13-7), at ¶ 3(c) (“The parties shall provide the Court with specific page citations to the administrative record to support their arguments. The Court will not undertake an open-ended review of the entirety of the administrative record to find support for the parties' arguments.”).

         Judicial review of the ALJ's decision to deny disability benefits is a limited and deferential inquiry into whether substantial evidence supports the denial's factual decisions and whether the ALJ properly applied relevant legal standards. Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 405 (6th Cir. 2009); Jordan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 548 F.3d 417, 422 (6th Cir. 2008); Brainard v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427 (1971)); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (providing and defining judicial review for Social Security claims) (“The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive[.]”).

         Substantial evidence means “more than a scintilla of evidence, but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994); see also Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004). The Court does not try the case de novo, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or assess questions of credibility. Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007). Similarly, the Court does not reverse findings of the Acting Commissioner or the ALJ merely because the record contains evidence-even substantial evidence-to support a different conclusion. Warner, 375 F.3d at 390. Rather, the Court must affirm the ALJ's decision if substantial evidence supports it, even if the Court might have decided the case differently if in the ALJ's shoes. See Longworth v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005); Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999).

         The ALJ, when determining disability, conducts a five-step analysis. See Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); id. at § 416.920(a)(4). At Step 1, the ALJ considers whether the claimant is performing substantial gainful activity. See Preslar, 14 F.3d at 1110; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). At Step 2, the ALJ determines whether one or more of the claimant's impairments are severe. Preslar, 14 F.3d at 1110; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). At Step 3, the ALJ analyzes whether the claimant's impairments, alone or in combination, meet or equal an entry in the Listing of Impairments. Preslar, 14 F.3d at 1110; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). At Step 4, the ALJ determines RFC and whether the claimant can perform past relevant work. Preslar, 14 F.3d at 1110; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). The inquiry at this stage (if applicable) is whether the claimant can still perform that type of work, not necessarily the specific past job. See Studaway v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 815 F.2d 1074, 1076 (6th Cir. 1987). Finally, at Step 5, when the burden shifts to the Acting Commissioner, if the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the ALJ determines whether significant numbers of other jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can perform, given the applicable RFC. See Preslar, 14 F.3d at 1110; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); id. at § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the ALJ determines at any step that the claimant is not disabled, the analysis ends at that step. Mowery v. Heckler, 771 F.2d 966, 969 (6th Cir. 1985); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); id. at § 416.920(a)(4).

         When reviewing the ALJ's application of the legal standards, the Court gives deference to her interpretation of the law and reviews the decision for reasonableness and consistency with governing statutes. Whiteside v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 834 F.2d 1289, 1292 (6th Cir. 1987). In a Social Security benefits case, the agency's construction of the statute should be followed “unless there are compelling indications that it is wrong.” Merz v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 969 F.2d 201, 203 (6th Cir. 1992) (quoting Whiteside, 834 F.2d at 1292).

         B. The ALJ did not reversibly err.

         Goldsberry makes two broad arguments: that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's disability determination, DE #12-1, at 5-9, and that the ALJ erred in evaluating Claimant's subjective complaints of pain, id. at 9-10. The Court evaluates each in turn.

         1. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's disability determination.

         Goldsberry's first argument has a variety of sub-parts; the Court organizes and evaluates them as best it can.

         Sub-part 1-The ALJ did not fail to address the entirety of ...


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