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Hunley v. Astrue

May 23, 2008

DAMARR HUNLEY. PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leon Jordan United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This is an action for judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of defendant Commissioner's final decision denying plaintiff's claim for disability insurance and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. For the reasons provided herein, defendant's motion for summary judgment [doc. 17] will be granted, and plaintiff's motion for summary judgment [doc. 15] will be denied.

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff was born in 1974. She applied for benefits in April 2004, claiming to be disabled by depression, fatigue, anxiety, and constant total body pain. [Tr. 71, 80].

Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of April 8, 2003. [Tr. 71].*fn1 The present applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff then requested a hearing, which took place before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") in August 2005.

By decision dated December 9, 2005, the ALJ ruled plaintiff ineligible for benefits. Plaintiff then sought review from the Commissioner's Appeals Council. In May 2006, the Appeals Council remanded plaintiff's claims, directing the ALJ in pertinent part to "[f]urther evaluate the claimant's mental impairments in accordance with the special technique described in 20 CFR 404.1520a and 416.920a, documenting application of the technique in the decision by providing specific findings and appropriate rationale for each of the functional areas described in 20 CFR 404.1520a(c) and 416.920a(c)." [Tr. 16].

Plaintiff received a second administrative hearing on September 5, 2006. On September 15, 2006, the ALJ issued a second decision denying benefits. He concluded that plaintiff suffers from "moderate obesity, hypertension, hypothyroidism, musculoskeletal symptoms and a mental disorder characterized as dysthymic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and personality disorder," which are "severe" impairments but not equal, individually or in concert, to any impairment listed by the Commissioner. [Tr. 31]. Terming her subjective complaints "not credible," the ALJ found plaintiff to have the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light and sedentary exertion subject to certain postural and emotional limitations. [Tr. 31]. Relying on vocational expert testimony, the ALJ determined that plaintiff remains able to perform a significant number of jobs existing in the regional and national economies. [Tr. 29, 32]. Plaintiff was accordingly again deemed ineligible for benefits.

Plaintiff then again sought, and was denied, Appeals Council review, despite the submission and consideration of additional medical records. [Tr. 4-9].*fn2 The ALJ's ruling became the Commissioner's final decision. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481. Through her timely complaint, plaintiff has properly brought her case before this court. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

II. Applicable Legal Standards

Review of the Commissioner's decision is confined to whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether his factual findings were supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). "Substantial evidence" 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 Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The "substantiality of evidence must take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight." Beavers v. Sec'y of Health, Educ. & Welfare, 577 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1978) (quoting Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S. 474, 488 (1951)). In reviewing administrative decisions, the court must take care not to "abdicate [its] conventional judicial function," despite the narrow scope of review. Universal Camera, 340 U.S. at 490.

A claimant is entitled to disability insurance payments if she (1) is insured for disability insurance benefits, (2) has not attained retirement age, (3) has filed an application for disability insurance benefits, and (4) is under a disability. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1). "Disability" is the "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. § 423(d)(1)(A).

An individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work. 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(2)(A).*fn3 Disability is evaluated pursuant to a five-step analysis summarized as follows:

1. If claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled.

2. If claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity, his impairment must be severe before he can be found to be disabled.

3. If claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity and is suffering from a severe impairment that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and his impairment meets or equals a listed impairment, claimant is presumed disabled without further inquiry.

4. If claimant's impairment does not prevent him from doing his past relevant work, he is not disabled.

5. Even if claimant's impairment does prevent him from doing his past relevant work, if other work exists in the national economy that accommodates his residual functional capacity and vocational factors (age, education, skills, etc.), he is not disabled.

Walters, 127 F.3d at 529 (citing 20 C.F.R. ยง 404.1520). Plaintiffs bear the burden of proof during the first four steps. Walters, 127 F.3d at 529. The burden ...


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