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Bischoff v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Covington

September 30, 2019

ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner[1] of the Social Security Administration, DEFENDANT


          Candace J. Smith, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff 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.


         In 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).

         The 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)).


         Plaintiff 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).

         Plaintiff 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).

         The ALJ 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).

         Before 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 limitations:

[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).

         After 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.

         Even in 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 ...

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