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Henry v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

September 21, 2013


OPINION & ORDER [Resolving Docs. 1, 17, 18, 19]

JAMES S. GWIN, District Judge.

Magistrate Judge Vernelis K. Armstrong recommends this Court affirm the Social Security Commissioner's denial of disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income to Plaintiff Belinda Henry.[1] Because substantial evidence supported the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ's) conclusions and the ALJ did not abuse her discretion, the Court ADOPTS the recommendations of the Magistrate Judge and AFFIRMS the Commissioner's denial of benefits.

I. Factual and Procedural Background[2]

On September 18, 2008, Plaintiff Belinda Henry filed an application for disability insurance benefits.[3] On April 2, 2009, Henry filed an application for supplemental security income.[4] After her applications were denied, she requested a hearing.[5] On November 5, 2010, Henry appeared at a hearing with counsel before Administrative Law Judge Kelley Fitzgerald; a neutral vocational expert also testified.[6]

Plaintiff testified that she was seeking disability because of seizures and mental health issues.[7] She said she began suffering from seizures in 1997 and has seizures two to three times per week.[8] She has missed approximately seven to ten days per month of her cosmetology school because of the seizure. As a consequence, she has twice been put on probation.[9] She also said her ability to pay attention and focus, especially in school, was limited and that due to her medication she is often drowsy; she even fell asleep in class.[10] She had participated in group therapy but stopped going because she did not think it was helping her.[11] She testified that she had not pursued treatment from August 2008 to November 2009 because she could not afford it.[12]

She said she attended her cosmetology school from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. five days a week.[13] She was passing all of her courses.[14] She drives three times a week, is taking a computer course, needs only occasional assistance to dress and bathe herself, and can prepare cold meals for herself, if needed.[15]

In addition to this evidence, the ALJ also received a report from a consultative examination which stated that Henry had been discharged from a previous employer due to theft.[16]

During the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ asked what jobs a person could perform with a residual functional capacity of unskilled, medium work, with only physical limitations and with the claimant's work history and age.[17] The vocational expert answered that such a person could perform jobs as a hospital cleaner, a dietary aid, and a cook helper.[18]

On January 7, 2011, the ALJ denied Henry's applications.[19] The ALJ found that Henry suffered from a seizure disorder, high blood pressure, low average IQ, mood disorder, and a history of polysubstance use disorder.[20] The ALJ also found that Henry had moderate difficulties with social functioning, concentration, persistence, and pace.[21] But the ALJ did not include Henry's mental difficulties in Henry's a residual functional capacity of medium.[22] Specifically, the ALJ did not find that Henry's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the symptoms she described and that Henry was not as limited as her testimony suggested.[23] Based on the vocational expert's response to the ALJ's hypothetical question, the ALJ found that sufficient jobs which Henry could perform existed in the national economy and, therefore, Henry was not under a disability.[24]

Henry appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration, [21] which denied her request for review on August 2, 2012.[22] On November 5, 2012, Henry sought review in this Court.[23] On July 12, 2013, Magistrate Judge Armstrong issued a Report and Recommendation that the Court affirm the Commissioner's decision.[24] Henry timely filed objections, [22] and the Commissioner filed a response.[22]

II. Legal Standard

To establish disability under the Social Security Act, a claimant must show that she is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity because of a "medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months."[23] Agency regulations establish a five-step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is disabled.[24] The claimant's impairment must prevent her from doing her previous work, as well as any other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy.[25]

The Federal Magistrates Act requires a district court to conduct a de novo review of the claimant's objections to a report and recommendation.[26] A final decision of the Social Security Commissioner made by an ALJ is, however, not reviewed de novo. A district court only determines whether the ALJ's decision is "supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards."[27]

Substantial evidence is evidence that a "reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."[28] The substantial evidence standard requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance of the evidence.[29] In deciding whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, a court should not try to resolve conflicts in evidence or decide questions of credibility.[30] The district court may look into any evidence in the record, regardless of whether it has been cited by the ALJ.[31] When substantial evidence ...

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