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McGuire v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 26, 2019

AGATHA LYNN MCGUIRE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Robert E. Wier, United States District Judge.

         Agatha McGuire appeals the Commissioner's denial of her application for disability benefits.[1] The parties filed dueling summary judgment motions. The Court GRANTS the Commissioner's motion (DE #10) and DENIES McGuire's motion (DE #8) 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

         McGuire is currently 62 years old. See, e.g., R. at 65. She alleges disability beginning on May 5, 2014. See, e.g., R. at 127. McGuire applied for benefits on October 22, 2014. R. at 217-27. The SSA denied her claims initially on January 5, 2015, see R. at 127-30, and upon reconsideration on July 14, 2015. See R. at 136-50. McGuire then filed a written request for a hearing on September 9, 2015. R. at 151-52. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Deborah Foresman held a video hearing on April 11, 2017. R. at 39-64. At the hearing, attorney Randy Clark represented McGuire. R. at 42. Claimant and impartial vocational expert (VE) Andrew Beale testified. R. at 45-63. The ALJ subsequently denied McGuire's claims on September 25, 2017. R. at 17-32. The Appeals Council denied review, and thus upheld the ALJ's decision, on July 5, 2018. R. at 1-3.

         The ALJ made several particular findings in the required sequence. She determined that McGuire did not engage in substantial gainful activity from May 5, 2014, through the date of decision. R. at 22. The ALJ next determined that McGuire had severe impairments. R. at 23. However, ALJ Foresman then found that McGuire 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 24-25. The ALJ further made a detailed residual functional capacity (RFC) finding. R. at 25-31. Considering the RFC, Judge Foresman found McGuire “capable of performing past relevant work as a patient transporter” and, also, able to perform two separate representative jobs in the national economy (order puller and counter supply worker). See R. at 31. Based on these considerations, the ALJ ruled that McGuire was not under a disability from May 5, 2014, through the date of decision. See R. at 21, 32. Unsatisfied with the result of the SSA's administrative process, McGuire turned to federal court for review.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         The Court has carefully read the ALJ's lengthy decision, the transcript of the administrative hearing, and the apt parts of the entire (voluminous-1, 900 page) administrative record. The Court has scrutinized the record, while primarily focusing on the portions to which the parties specifically cite. See DE #7 (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). At Step 1, the ALJ considers whether the claimant is performing substantial gainful activity. See Preslar, 14 F.3d at 1110. At Step 2, the ALJ determines whether one or more of the claimant's impairments are severe. Id. 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. Id. At Step 4, the ALJ determines RFC and whether the claimant can perform past relevant work. Id. 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). 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).

         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.

         McGuire makes two overarching arguments: that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision, and that the ALJ erred by failing to apply the Grid Rules. See ...


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