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Kirkhart v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

May 31, 2019

GINA MARIE KIRKHART, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Barrett, J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KAREN L. LITKOVITZ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Gina Marie Kirkhart, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs statement of errors (Doc. 6), the Commissioner's response in opposition (Doc. 12), and plaintiffs reply (Doc. 13).

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff protectively filed her application for DIB on February 6, 2015, alleging disability since October 14, 2010[1], due to Stage 3 degenerative disc disorder, sciatica, glaucoma, arthritis, asthma, depression, anxiety, hypertension, fibromyalgia, Barrett's esophagus, and tachycardia. (Tr. 208) The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff, through counsel, requested and was granted a de novo hearing before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Peter J. Boylan. Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") appeared and testified at the ALJ hearing on April 17, 2017. On August 4, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiffs DIB application. This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on March 22, 2018.

         II. Analysis

         A. Legal Framework for Disability Determinations

         To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must suffer from 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 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The impairment must render the claimant unable to engage in the work previously performed or in any other substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2).

         Regulations promulgated by the Commissioner establish a five-step sequential evaluation process for disability determinations:

1) If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, the claimant is not disabled.
2) If the claimant does not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment - i.e., an impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities - the claimant is not disabled.
3) If the claimant has a severe impairment(s) that meets or equals one of the listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations and meets the duration requirement, the claimant is disabled.
4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him or her from doing his or her past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled.
5) If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is disabled.

Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 582 F.3d 647, 652 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), 404.1520(b)-(g)). The claimant has the burden of proof at the first four steps of the sequential evaluation process. Id.; Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 378 F.3d 541, 548 (6th Cir. 2004). Once the claimant establishes a prima facie case by showing an inability to perform the relevant previous employment, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other substantial gainful employment and that such employment exists in the national economy. Rabbers, 582 F.3d at 652; Harmon v. Apfel, 168 F.3d 289, 291 (6th Cir. 1999).

         B. The Administrative Law Judge's Findings

         The ALJ applied the sequential evaluation process and made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

1. The [plaintiff] last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2015.
2. The [plaintiff] did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of October 14, 2010 through her date last insured of December 31, 2015 (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. Through the date last insured, the [plaintiff] had the following severe impairments: major joint dysfunction, spine disorder, loss of central visual acuity, affective disorder, and anxiety disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. Through the date last insured, the [plaintiff] did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the [ALJ] finds that, through the date last insured, the [plaintiff] had the residual functional capacity [("RFC")] to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except as follows: the [plaintiff] could occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; however she should never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. The [plaintiff] must avoid concentrated exposure to vibration, with no use of heavy hand-held or vibrating equipment. She must avoid concentrated exposure to workplace hazards, such as dangerous machinery or unprotected heights. The [plaintiff] is limited to simple, routine tasks. She should never perform production rate pace work. The [plaintiff] is limited to simple, work-related decisions. The [plaintiff] is limited to frequent interactions with supervisors and occasional interactions with co-workers. She can have no interaction with the public as part of her job duties. The [plaintiff] is limited to tolerating occasional changes in a routine work setting.
6. Through the date last insured, the [plaintiff] was unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).[2]
7. The [plaintiff] was born [in]... 1968 and was 47 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date last insured (20 CFR 404.1563).
8. The [plaintiff] has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in ...

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