United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Covington
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Candace J. Smith, United States Magistrate Judge.
Jennifer Bischoff brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), challenging Defendant Commissioner’s final
decision denying her application for disability insurance
benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. The
parties have consented to the undersigned’s authority
to adjudicate this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)
and Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
(See R. 18). At issue is whether the Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ) erred in finding Plaintiff “not
disabled” within the meaning of the Social Security Act
and therefore not entitled to benefits. The Court, having
reviewed the record and the parties’ dispositive
motions, and for the reasons set forth herein, will
affirm the Commissioner’s decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW AND THE ADMINISTRATIVE PROCESS
reviewing the decision of an ALJ in social security cases,
the only issues before the reviewing court are whether the
ALJ applied correct legal standards and whether the decision
is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §
423(a)(1), et seq. Substantial evidence means
“more than a mere scintilla but less than a
preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)
(quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S.
229 (1938)). A reviewing court may not try the case de novo,
resolve conflicts in evidence, or decide questions of
credibility. See Ulman v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.,
693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir. 2012).
Social Security Act requires the Commissioner to follow a
five-step analysis when making a determination on a claim of
disability. Vance v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 260
Fed.App’x 801, 803-04 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Abbot
v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990));
Heston v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528,
534 (6th Cir. 2001). First, a claimant must demonstrate that
she is not currently engaged in “substantial gainful
activity.” Vance, 260 Fed.App’x at 803
(citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b)).
Second, if the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful
activity, she must demonstrate that she suffers from a severe
impairment. Id. at 803-04. “A ‘severe
impairment’ is one which ‘significantly limits .
. . physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities.’” Id. at 804 (citing 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c)). Third, if the
claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity, has
a severe impairment that is expected to last for at least
twelve months, and the impairment meets or equals a listed
impairment located at 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix
1, then the claimant is presumed disabled regardless of age,
education, or work experience. Id. (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d)). Fourth, if the
impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, the
claimant must show her impairment prevents her from doing her
past relevant work. Id. Lastly, even if the claimant
cannot perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled if
she can perform other work that exists in the national
economy. Id. (citing Abbot, 905 F.2d at
923). Throughout this process, the claimant carries the
overall burden of establishing that she is disabled, but the
Commissioner bears the burden of establishing that the
claimant can perform other work existing in the national
economy. Id. (quoting Wilson v. Comm’r of
Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 548 (6th Cir. 2004)).
FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Jennifer Bischoff was 43 years old at the time of the alleged
disability onset date, and she has at least a high school
education. (Administrative Record (A.R.) at 18-19). She
alleged disability due to narcolepsy, paralysis, and high
blood pressure. (Id. at 96).
filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on
October 21, 2014, alleging disability onset of July 31, 2013.
(Id. at 166). The claim was denied initially on May
4, 2015, and again upon reconsideration on September 16,
2015. (Id. at 96, 102). Plaintiff appeared and
testified at an administrative hearing before ALJ Anne
Shaugnessy on August 8, 2017. (Id. at 27). The ALJ
also heard testimony from an impartial vocational expert
(VE). (Id. at 50). After receiving testimony and
reviewing the record, the ALJ issued a written decision on
October 30, 2017, finding Plaintiff not disabled under the
Social Security Act and therefore not entitled to benefits).
(Id. at 20).
used the five-step sequential process to determine that
Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. 10-20).
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). At step one, the
ALJ determined that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since July 31, 2013, the alleged onset date
of Plaintiff’s disabilities. (Id. at 12)
(citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1571, et seq.). At step
two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff’s severe impairments
consisted of narcolepsy, cataplexy, obstructive sleep apnea,
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and depression.
(Id.) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)). At step
three, the ALJ analyzed the Plaintiff’s impairments and
the opinions of treating and consultative physicians and
found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
(Id. at 12-14).
moving on to step four, the ALJ considered the entire record
and determined that Plaintiff Bischoff possessed the residual
functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all
exertional levels, but with the following non-exertional
[Plaintiff] cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She
should avoid all exposures to hazards. She can understand and
remember simple instructions. She can carry out simple tasks.
She can interact occasionally with supervisors and coworkers
and the public.
(Id. at 14).
explaining how she determined Plaintiff Bischoff’s
residual functional capacity, the ALJ found at step four
that, based on this residual functional capacity, Plaintiff
is unable to perform her past relevant work. At the
disability hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from an impartial
vocational expert who stated that based upon the residual
functional capacity provided by the ALJ, a hypothetical
individual with the same vocational factors and residual
functional capacity as Plaintiff could not perform any of the
Plaintiff’s past work. (Id. at 51). Based upon
the testimony of the vocational expert and consideration of
Plaintiff’s vocational history, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was unable to perform her past work.
light of this finding, the ALJ found at step five that,
following the vocational expert’s testimony, due to
Plaintiff Bischoff’s age, education, work experience,
and residual functional capacity, Plaintiff Bischoff could
successfully adjust to other work that exists in significant
numbers in the national economy. The ALJ ...