United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London
SARA BETH ANDERSON, No. Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. Hood Senior U.S. District Judge.
Sarah Beth Anderson (“Anderson”), brings this
matter under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review
of an administrative decision of the Acting Commissioner of
Social Security. The Court, having reviewed the record and
the cross motions for summary judgment filed by the parties,
[DE 11, 13], will AFFIRM the
Commissioner’s decision as no legal error occurred and
the Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”)
decision is supported by substantial evidence.
STANDARD FOR DETERMINING DISABILITY
the Social Security Act, a disability is defined as
“inability 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
evaluate a claim of disability for Title II disability
insurance benefit claims, an ALJ conducts a five-step
analysis. Compare 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520
(disability insurance benefit claim) with 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920 (claims for supplemental security
income). In determining disability, an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) uses a five-step
analysis. See Jones v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.,
336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). Step One considers whether
the claimant is still performing substantial gainful
activity; Step Two, whether any of the claimant’s
impairments are “severe”; Step Three, whether the
impairments meet or equal a listing in the Listing of
Impairments; Step Four, whether the claimant can still
perform past relevant work; and, if necessary, Step Five,
whether significant numbers of other jobs exist in the
national economy which the claimant can perform. As to the
last step, the burden of proof shifts from the claimant to
the Commissioner. Id.; see also Preslar v.
Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107,
1110 (6th Cir. 1994).
PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL HISTORY
2015, Anderson applied for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”), alleging disability as of April 2015.
[TR 209-215; TR 216-224]. Anderson alleged disability due to
physical and mental impairments. [TR 10; TR 12; 209-224].
applications for SSI and DIB were denied initially on August
31, 2015. [TR 134-137]. Her applications were also denied on
reconsideration on December 16, 2015. [TR 140-42].
Subsequently, Anderson appeared at an administrative hearing
before ALJ Susan Brock. [TR 38-75]. Anderson was represented
by an attorney at the hearing. [Id.].
issued a decision on April 11, 2017, denying Anderson’s
claims and finding she was not disabled. [TR 23]. The Appeals
Council denied review. [TR 1-3]. This appeal followed
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). [DE 1]. Consistent with
the Court’s Standing Scheduling Order, [DE 10], the
parties have submitted cross motions for summary judgment,
which are ripe for review. [DE 11, 13].
alleges onset of disability at age 26. Anderson engaged in
past relevant work as a sales associate, a CNA, a daycare
worker, and a nursery worker. [TR 269].
hearing, Anderson reported that she stopped working in April
25th of 2015 due to a bone bruise on her left ankle. [TR 44].
She ultimately quit in June. [TR 44]. In particular she
reported that the injury “caused me to be off of work
for a while and the longer that I was off, I just started
thinking more and more about what to do with going back to
work or just going for the disability.” [TR 44]. She
reported that this injury healed in August of that 2015. [TR
also reports that two other problems that primarily impact
her ability to work. First, she reports that she suffers from
undifferentiated connective tissue disease. [TR 49]. Anderson
explained that this causes her a lot of joint pain and
swelling. [Id.]. She also claims this has caused her
problems with her breathing and requires her to have an
emergency inhaler. [TR 50].
she testified that she suffers from fibromyalgia. [TR 49].
This causes Anderson to experience back pain and sciatic
nerve pain. [TR 49]. Anderson also claims that her
fibromyalgia causes her to go numb on her right side once or
twice per week, up to three to four hours at a time. [TR 50].
testified that she could not do any bending, that exercising
is difficult, although stretching relieves some of her back
pain. [TR 51]. She also claims that she went to physical
therapy for the back pain to do traction for the back pain.
[TR 51]. This involved massaging. [TR 51]. However, after she
quit physical therapy, the back pain returned. [TR 51].
Anderson testified that she has joint pain in her fingers,
elbows, ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders. [TR 52].
her Sjogren’s, Anderson testified she lost all of her
teeth. [TR 53]. She got dentures that do not comfortably fit.
[TR 53]. Anderson believes that her lack of teeth affects her
ability to work in customer service because she cannot
present herself “in a nice way.” [TR 53]. She
also says she cannot speak effectively while wearing her
dentures. [TR 54]. Anderson next testified that her
Raynaud’s constricts blood flow causing her to lose
feeling in her fingers, especially in her extremities. [TR
55]. This is exacerbated by extreme temperatures, which,
Anderson testified, she tries to avoid. [TR 56].
further testified that she suffers from UTIs on a frequent
basis. [TR 53]. Anderson reports that her frequent UTIs cause
her to get dizzy, have “vertigo, ” and pass out.
[TR 57]. Anderson testified that she gets at least one (1)
UTI per month. Andersons states that her monthly UTI episodes
cause her to use the restroom frequently, from every thirty
(30) minutes to an hour. [TR 58].
Anderson testified as to her depression. [TR 58]. Anderson
reported taking depression medication for eight (8) years.
[TR 58]. Anderson claims she no longer likes to be around
people like she used to, does not like getting out of the
bed, and do not like leaving her home. [TR 59]. Although her
doctor has allegedly suggested she go to counseling, Anderson
has not gone. [TR 58].
Anderson testified that she had asthma, requiring her to use
a nebulizer during some months of the year. [TR 65]. Anderson
reported that she typically has to use the nebulizer at
nighttime, and that the treatment takes approximately 20-25
minutes. [TR 65-66].
vocational expert, Jane Hall, also testified at the hearing.
The vocational expert explained that Anderson had worked as a
nurse’s aide, a salesperson/cashier, and a babysitter.
[TR 71]. The ALJ posed hypotheticals to the vocational
expert. [TR 71-75].
issued an unfavorable decision on April 11, 2017. [TR 10-23].
At Step One, the ALJ determined that Anderson has not engaged
in substantial gainful activity since April 26, 2015. [TR
12]. At Step Two, the ALJ found that Anderson suffered from
the following severe impairments: obesity, connective tissue
disease, fibromyalgia, Raynaud’s, Sjogren’s,
lumbago with sciatica, and asthma. [TR 12]. However, the ALJ
found that recurrent UTI, acute bronchitis/pharyngitis, bone
bruise left ankle/heel, vitamin D deficiency, hypertension,
ovarian cyst, depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder were
non-severe. [TR 13]. The ALJ found that Anderson’s
medically determinable mental impairments of depression and
anxiety were non-severe. [TR 13].
at Step Three, the ALJ found that none of those impairments
or combination or impairment met or medically equaled the
severity of any of the listed impairments. [TR 14]. In
reaching this conclusion, ALJ considered Listings 4.12;
12.04; 12.06; 1.06; 14.06; 14.04; and 14.10; but found that
Anderson had not satisfied the requisite severity.
proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b). [TR 14]. Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff
could perform the following tasks:
Light work...except for work requiring more than frequent
climbing of ramps or stairs, stooping, kneeling, crouching,
or crawling; frequent handling, fingering, and feeling; no
climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequent exposure
to extreme heat, cold, and wetness, no more than occasional
exposure to unprotected heights and hazardous machinery;
frequent exposure to dust, pollen, mites, allergens, poor
ventilation, and other pulmonary irritants. Claimant can
perform simple routine tasks where workplace changes are
occasional and gradually introduced.
four, the ALJ discussed Sjogren’s autoimmune disease,
Raynaud’s disease, fibromyalgia, and asthma. [TR 15].
The ALJ also discussed Anderson’s prior treatments for
urinary tract infection, abdominal upset, widespread pain,
knee pain, Raynaud’s, ankle sprain, low back pain,
depression and anxiety while reviewing the medical evidence.
[TR 14-21]. Ultimately, the ALJ found that the objective
medical evidence did not support Anderson’s assessment
of the severity of her symptoms. [TR 15].
then concluded, at Step Four, that Anderson is unable to
perform any past relevant work as a sales associate,
certified nursing aide, day care provider, or sales associate
cashier. [TR 21]. The ALJ based this determination upon,
among other things, the vocational experts testimony that the
these jobs are precluded by the residual functional capacity
the ALJ determined that given Anderson’s age,
education, work experience, and RFC, that “there are
jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy that [Anderson] can perform.” [TR 22]. Again,
the ALJ based her conclusion, in part, on the testimony of
the VE that Plaintiff could be able to perform the
requirements of occupations such as stock clerk (240, 000
jobs nationally) office clerk (190, 000 jobs nationally), and