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Johnson v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

November 12, 2019

TONYA G. JOHNSON PLAINTIFF
v.
ANDREW SAUL, COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION[1] DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          H. Brent Brennenstuhl, United States Magistrate Judge.

         BACKGROUND

         Before the Court is the complaint (DN 1) of Tonya G. Johnson (“Plaintiff”) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN 14) and Defendant (DN 20) have filed a Fact and Law Summary. For the reasons that follow, the final decision of the Commissioner is reversed, and this matter is remanded, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to the Commissioner for further proceedings.

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties have consented to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge conducting all further proceedings in this case, including issuance of a memorandum opinion and entry of judgment, with direct review by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the event an appeal is filed (DN 11). By Order entered July 8, 2019 (DN 13), the parties were notified that oral arguments would not be held unless a written request therefor was filed and granted. No. such request was filed.

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         Plaintiff protectively filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on March 11, 2013 (Tr. 24, 244-50). Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled on January 23, 2013, because of chronic neck and back pain with neuropathy, obesity, depression, chronic diarrhea, sleep disorders, persistent bladder infections, and high cholesterol (Tr. 24, 294). On November 4, 2014 and April 16, 2015, Administrative Law Judge Karen R. Jackson (“ALJ”) conducted a video hearing from Lexington, Kentucky (Tr. 24, 43-82, 83-105). Plaintiff and her attorney, Richard Burchett, participated from Campbellsville, Kentucky (Id.). Linda Taber, a vocational expert, testified during the April 16, 2015 hearing (Tr. 24, 43-82).

         In a decision dated May 26, 2015, the ALJ evaluated this adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 24-37). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2017 (Tr. 26). At the first step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 23, 2013 the alleged onset date (Id.). At the second step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: lumbar and cervical degenerative disc disease; minimal degenerative joint disease/bursitis of the left hip; obesity; depressive disorder; generalized anxiety disorder; and post-traumatic stress disorder (Id.). The ALJ also determined while Plaintiff has been diagnosed with hypertension, a history of chronic cystourethritis, and bilateral wrist osteoarthritis these impairments are non-severe because the evidence fails to demonstrate they cause more than minimal limitations (Tr. 27). At the third step, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1 (Tr. 27).

         At the fourth step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform light work except that she can only lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; she can stand/walk for six hours in an eight-hour day; she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; she can only occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; she must avoid concentrated exposure to vibration and all exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights or dangerous machinery; she can only perform simple, routine work tasks; she can maintain attention and concentration for two-hour segments during an eight-hour workday; she can adapt to gradual changes in a routine work environment; and she can interact frequently with supervisors and coworkers, but only occasionally with the general public (Tr. 29). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any of his/her past relevant work (Tr. 35).

         The ALJ proceeded to the fifth step where she considered Plaintiffs residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience as well as testimony from the vocational expert (Tr. 35-36). The ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing a significant number of jobs that exist in the national economy (Id.). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a “disability," as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 23, 2013 through the date of the decision (Tr. 36).

         Plaintiff timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 18-20). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review (Tr. 1-4).

         On August 18, 2016, Plaintiff filed a complaint before the Court (DN 1, Civil Action No. 1:16-CV-00135-HBB). After considering the arguments of Plaintiff and the Commissioner, the Court issued a memorandum opinion and order reversing the final decision of the Commissioner and remanding the matter, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to the Commissioner for further proceedings (Tr. 1025-38). More specifically, the Court concluded the ALJ failed to consider whether Plaintiff's shoulder condition was a severe impairment and whether it imposed any limitations on her residual functional capacity despite substantial medical and testimonial evidence regarding this impairment (Id.).

         The Appeals Council remanded the case to the ALJ for further proceedings consistent with the Court's decision (Tr. 141-44). Additionally, the Appeals Council instructed the ALJ to offer Plaintiff the opportunity for hearing and address the additional evidence submitted, take any further action needed to complete the administrative record, and issue a new decision (Tr. 1043).

         On May 23, 2018, the ALJ conducted a video hearing from Lexington, Kentucky (Tr. 873, 894-930). Plaintiff and her attorney, Richard Burchett, participated from Campbellsville, Kentucky (Id.). Martha R. Goss, a vocational expert, testified during the hearing (Id.).

         In a decision dated August 15, 2018, the ALJ evaluated this adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 873-84). Again, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements on December 31, 2017 (Tr. 875). At the first step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity from her alleged onset date of January 23, 2013, through her date last insured of December 31, 2017 (Id.). At the second step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease throughout the spine, status post ACDF of the cervical spine; bursitis of the left shoulder and left hip; osteoarthritis in the wrists bilaterally; obesity; umbilical hernia; depressive disorder; generalized anxiety disorder; and posttraumatic stress disorder (Id.). At the third step, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1 (Tr. 876).

         At the fourth step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work except that she can only occasionally reach overhead bilaterally with the upper extremities; she can only frequently handle finger and feel bilaterally; she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; she can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; she must avoid concentrated exposure to vibration, as well as all exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights or dangerous moving machinery; she is further limited to simple work tasks; she is able to adapt to gradual changes in a routine work environment, and can interact frequently with supervisors and co-workers; and she can occasionally interact with the public (Tr. 877-78). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ found through the date last insured Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work (Tr. 882).

         The ALJ proceeded to the fifth step where he considered Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience as well as testimony from the vocational expert (Tr. 883-84). The ALJ found through the date last insured Plaintiff was able to perform a significant number of jobs that existed in the national economy (Id.). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a “disability, ” as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from January 23, 2013, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2017, the date last insured (Tr. 884).

         Plaintiff again returns to the Court challenging the final decision of the Commissioner (DN 1). Plaintiff and Defendant have filed their fact and Law summaries (DN 14, 20) and this matter is ripe for determination.

         CONCLUSIONS ...


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