Clark v. SSA
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER: IT IS ORDERED as follows: (1) The decision of the Commissioner is found to be supported by substantial evidence and is hereby AFFIRMED; (2) Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 11 ) is hereby DENIED; (3) Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 12 ) is hereby GRANTED. A Judgment in favor of Defendant Commissioner will be entered contemporaneously herewith. Signed by Judge David L. Bunning on 04/29/2015.(KJA)cc: COR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
CIVIL ACTION NO. 14-106-DLB
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Commissioner of Social Security
Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review
of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Court, having
reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner’s decision, as it is supported by
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff Tammy Clark filed her current application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) payments, alleging disability as of June 1, 2000. (Tr. 200-17). Plaintiff’s claim was
denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 94-97, 100-102). On December 18, 2012,
Administrative Law Judge Don C. Paris conducted an administrative hearing at Plaintiff’s
request. (Tr. 26-57). ALJ Paris ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits on January
31, 2013. (Tr. 13-22). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when
the Appeals Council denied review on April 19, 2014. (Tr. 1-5).
On May 6, 2014, Plaintiff filed the instant action. (Docs. # 1 and 2). This matter has
culminated in cross motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for review. (Docs.
# 11, 12 and 13).
Overview of the Process
Judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision is restricted to determining whether
it is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards.
See Cutlip v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994).
“Substantial evidence” is defined as “more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a
preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. Courts are not to conduct a de novo review, resolve
conflicts in the evidence, or make credibility determinations. Id. Rather, we are to affirm
the Commissioner’s decision, provided it is supported by substantial evidence, even if we
might have decided the case differently. See Her v. Comm’r of Social Sec., 203 F.3d 388,
389-90 (6th Cir. 1999).
The ALJ, in determining disability, conducts a five-step analysis. Step 1 considers
whether the claimant is still performing substantial gainful activity; Step 2, whether any of
the claimant’s impairments are “severe”; Step 3, whether the impairments meet or equal
a listing in the Listing of Impairments; Step 4, whether the claimant can still perform his past
relevant work; and Step 5, whether significant numbers of other jobs exist in the national
economy which the claimant can perform. As to the last step, the burden of proof shifts
from the claimant to the Commissioner. See Jones v. Comm’r of Social Sec., 336 F.3d
469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003); Preslar v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110
(6th Cir. 1994).
The ALJ’s Determination
At Step 1, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since the application date. (Tr. 15). At Step 2, the ALJ found Plaintiff’s history of coronary
artery disease, affective disorder, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder and morbid
obesity to be severe impairments within the meaning of the regulations. (Id.).
At Step 3, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to, an impairment listed in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 15-17). In making this determination, the ALJ
noted that Plaintiff’s impairments do not meet or equal Listing 12.04 (affective disorders)
or Listing 12.06 (anxiety-related disorders) because her daily activities suggest only
moderate limitations in social functioning and her medical history does not include repeated
episodes of decompensation. (Tr. 16-17).
At Step Four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967©; that is:
[O]ccasional lifting and carrying 20 pounds and frequently 10 pounds;
standing and walking six hours in an eight-hour workday; sitting six hours in
an eight-hour workday; never climbing ladders, ropes and scaffolds; must
avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, heat, humidity, noise, fumes,
odors, dust, gases and all hazards such as unprotected heights and
dangerous machinery. The claimant is capable of understanding and
remembering simple work instructions. She is capable of carrying out simple
work instructions; asking simple questions but difficulty getting along with the
general public and others. The claimant is capable of being aware of normal
hazards, but has difficulty responding to changes in the work setting.
(Tr. 17-21). The ALJ noted that the claimant has no past relevant work. (Tr. 21).
Accordingly, the ALJ proceeded to the final step of the sequential evaluation. At
Step 5, the ALJ found that there were a significant number of jobs in the national economy
that Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 21-22). The ALJ based this conclusion on testimony from
a vocational expert (“VE”), in response to a hypothetical question assuming an individual
of Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC. (Id.). The VE testified that a
hypothetical individual with Plaintiff's vocational profile and RFC could find light unskilled
work as a hand-packer (4,300 Kentucky/315,000 nationally), order filler (3,600
Kentucky/213,000 nationally) or weigher (400 Kentucky/27,000 nationally). (Tr. 21). Based
on the testimony of the VE and Plaintiff’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of making a successful adjustment to other work and
thus concluded that she was not under a "disability," as defined by the Social Security Act.
Plaintiff’s counsel sets forth six arguments for the Court’s consideration. The Court
will quote them verbatim: (1) the ALJ erred in stating that [Plaintiff] does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 when considered with
obesity; (2) the ALJ erred in failing to find [Plaintiff’s] mental impairments disabling; (3) the
ALJ erred in failing to fully consider [Plaintiff’s] complaints of pain; (4) the ALJ erred in
stating that [Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined
in 20 C.F.R. 416.967©; (5) the ALJ erred in stating that [Plaintiff] has not been under a
disability as defined in the Social Security Act; and (6) [Plaintiff] should be found totally and
permanently disabled from June 1, 2000. (Doc. # 11 at 1).
While Plaintiff’s counsel clearly identifies the issues before the Court, she fails to
develop them in any detail. Instead of explaining how the ALJ failed to give appropriate
weight to certain evidence or erred in reaching certain conclusions, Plaintiff’s counsel
simply cites the relevant law and baldly states that the law applies favorably in her client’s
case. The Court is under no obligation to consider such conclusory arguments. “[I]ssues
adverted to in a perfunctory manner, unaccompanied by some effort at developed
argumentation, are deemed waived.” See McPherson v. Kelsey, 125 F.3d 989, 995-96 (6th
Cir. 1997) (internal citations omitted). “It is not sufficient for a party to mention a possible
argument in the most skeletal way, leaving the court to . . . put flesh on its bones.” Id. That
being said, the Court will address the alleged points of error to the extent that it is able.
Plaintiff’s counsel is on notice that such threadbare arguments will not be tolerated in the
The ALJ’s finding that Plaintiff’s history of coronary artery disease did
not meet or medically equal any of the Listings of Impairments is
supported by substantial evidence
At the third step in the disability determination process, the Commissioner considers
the medical severity of the claimant’s impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii),
416.920(a)(4)(iii). Specifically, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant’s
impairment meets or equals one of the listings in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1. Id. These Listings “describe[ ] for each of the major body systems impairments that [the
SSA] consider[s] to be severe enough to prevent an individual from doing any gainful
activity, regardless of his or her age, education or work experience.”
20 C.F.R. §
404.1525(a). If the claimant can satisfy all of the objective medical criteria, plus the
duration requirement, then he or she “will be deemed conclusively disabled[ ] and entitled
to benefits.” Reynolds v. Comm’r of Social Sec., 424 F. App’x 411, 414 (6th Cir. 2011); see
also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509 (stating that the impairment “must have lasted or must be
expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months,” unless it is expected to
result in death). The Commissioner may also find that the claimant is per se disabled if he
or she demonstrates that the impairment is “at least equal in severity and duration to the
criteria of any listed impairment” and meets the duration requirement. 20 C.F.R. §
Listing 4.00(A)(1)(b) defines a cardiovascular impairment as a condition “result[ing]
from one or more of four consequences of heart disease.” Those consequences are listed
(I) chronic heart failure or ventricular dysfunction
(ii) discomfort or pain due to myocardial ischemia, with or without necrosis of
the heart muscle
(iii) syncope, or near syncope, due to inadequate cerebral perfusion from any
cardiac cause, such as obstruction of flow or disturbance in rhythm or
conduction resulting in inadequate cardiac output
(iv) central cyanosis due to right-to-left shunt, reduced oxygen concentration
in the arterial blood, or pulmonary vascular disease.
Listing 4.00(I)(1) further states that “[o]besity is a medically determinable impairment
that is often associated with disorders of the cardiovascular system” and “may affect the
cardiovascular system because of the increased workload the additional body mass places
on the heart.” Because the “combined effects of obesity with cardiovascular impairments
can be greater than the effects of the impairments considered separately,” the
Commissioner should “consider any additional and cumulative effects of obesity” when
determining whether the claimant has a severe or listing-level cardiovascular impairment.
Id. The cumulative effects should also be factored into the residual functional capacity
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in finding that her history of coronary artery
disease did not satisfy Listing 4.00(A)(1)(b). She argues that her condition qualifies as a
cardiovascular impairment because it resulted in chronic heart failure and discomfort or
pain due to myocardial ischemia. She also states that her obesity exacerbates the effects
of her cardiovascular impairment. Plaintiff believes that the ALJ would have deemed her
per se disabled if he had taken her obesity into account, as directed by Listing 4.00(i)(1).
In making her argument, Plaintiff reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of Listing
4.00. It is an introductory section that sets forth the general rules for evaluating all
cardiovascular impairments detailed in Listings 4.02 through 4.12. Stated another way,
Plaintiff cannot establish the existence of a cardiovascular impairment by simply stating that
she has chronic heart failure and discomfort or pain due to myocardial ischemia. Instead,
she must satisfy several specific criteria set forth in Listing 4.02 to demonstrate chronic
heart failure. Listing 4.04 sets forth several different criteria for showing ischemic heart
The Commissioner made a similar point in her Motion for Summary Judgment. This
prompted Plaintiff to file a Response, in which she argues that there is substantial evidence
to show that she meets these Listings. Specifically, Plaintiff points to Dr. Louis Suarez’s
treatment notes, which state that she was released to limited activity after her diagnosis.
(Tr. 264). Dr. Suarez also indicates that Plaintiff had an abnormal echocardiogram,
abnormal stress test and heart palpitations. (Id.). Plaintiff further cites to her own
testimony about recurring pain post-bypass. (Tr. 48-50).
Plaintiff’s attempt to re-frame her argument fails for two reasons. First, Plaintiff’s
argument is predicated on a fundamental misunderstanding of the Court’s role in Social
Security appeals. The key inquiry is not whether Plaintiff’s interpretation of the medical
records is supported by substantial evidence. It is whether the ALJ’s decision is supported
by substantial evidence, regardless of the Court’s own opinion about the record. In asking
the Court to remand this case because there is substantial evidence to support her
position, Plaintiff essentially invites the Court to re-weigh the evidence. Such a request is
beyond the scope of the Court’s review.
Moreover, Plaintiff fails to show that the ALJ should have addressed the Listings in
She did not direct the ALJ’s attention to the Section 4 Listings at the
administrative level. And although she suggests that the ALJ should have analyzed the
Section 4 Listings on his own volition, she does not cite to any evidence in the record
showing that the Section 4 Listings may have been met. Her self-serving testimony,
combined with treatment notes made only three months after her surgery, fall far short of
satisfying the specific criteria set forth in Listing 4.02 and Listing 4.04. Because “the ALJ
need not discuss listings that the applicant clearly does not meet, especially when the
claimant does not raise the listing before the ALJ,” the Court simply cannot find any error
in the ALJ’s analysis at Step 3. Sheeks v. Comm’r of Social Sec., No. 13-1711, 2013 WL
6084279, at *2 (6th Cir. Nov. 20, 2013).
The ALJ’s finding that Plaintiff’s affective disorder, anxiety disorder and
major depressive disorder did not meet or medically equal Listing 12.04
is supported by substantial evidence
Listing 12.04 governs affective disorders, which are “[c]haracterized by a disturbance
of mood, accompanied by a full or partial manic or depressive syndrome.”
considered per se disabled according to this Listing, a claimant must satisfy the
requirements of A and B1:
Medically documented persistence, either continuous or intermittent,
of one of the following:
Depressive syndrome characterized by at least four of the
Appetite disturbance with change in weight; or
Sleep disturbance; or
Psychomotor agitation or retardation; or
Decreased energy; or
Feelings of guilt or worthlessness; or
Thoughts of suicide; or
Anhedonia or pervasive loss of interest in almost all
Hallucinations, delusions, or paranoid thinking2
Resulting in at least two of the following:
Marked restriction of activities of daily living; or
Marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; or
Marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or
1) A claimant can also be per se disabled under Listing 12.04 if he or she satisfies the criteria of
subsection C. Although the ALJ considered the possible application of subsection C criteria in this
case, Plaintiff’s arguments focus on the ALJ’s treatment of subsections A and B. The ALJ also
considered the potential applicability of Listing 12.06 (anxiety-related disorders). Because none
of Plaintiff’s arguments relate to Listing 12.06, the Court has not reviewed that portion of the ALJ’s
Step 3 analysis.
2) Subsection A.2 lists the symptoms for manic syndrome, while subsection A.3 deals with bipolar
disorder symptoms. The Court has chosen not to quote those portions of Listing 12.04 because
both parties acknowledge that Plaintiff suffers from depressive disorder.
Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in finding that she did not meet the requirements
for Listing 12.04. Plaintiff insists that she satisfies four of the criteria set forth in subsection
A (appetite disturbance, sleep disturbance with change in weight, decreased energy and
difficulty concentrating or thinking) as well as two of the criteria in subsection B (marked
difficulties in maintaining social functioning and marked difficulties in maintaining
concentration, persistence and pace). However, she does not identify any alleged flaws
in the ALJ’s analysis, such as improperly weighed opinion evidence or overlooked medical
records. The Court can do no more than broadly review the ALJ’s decision to see if it is
supported by substantial evidence.
At the third step of the disability determination analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
has only mild limitations in conducting activities of daily living. (Tr. 16). In addition to
managing her own personal needs independently, Plaintiff testified that she feeds and
walks her dog, does light cooking, washes dishes, does laundry, drives, goes shopping and
attends church. (Tr. 16, 40-43). As for social functioning, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
has moderate limitations in this area because she reportedly does not get along well with
family or socialize with neighbors or friends. (Tr. 16, 51, 196-203). She testified that she
likes to be left alone, although she has developed social relationships with fellow
churchgoers. (Tr. 16, 41-42, 46, 51). The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff has mild to
moderate difficulties in persistence, concentration and pace, as she is “easily stressed
when things do not go as she thinks they should and lacks the attention to pace herself in
completing tasks.” (Tr. 16, 46-47). Finally, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff has no history of
extended episodes of decompensation.
Based upon Plaintiff’s mild to
moderate limitations in these areas, combined with the lack of episodes of
decompensation, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff’s depressive disorder does not meet the
requirements of Listing 12.04. (Tr. 17).
In reviewing this analysis, the Court notes that the ALJ identified Listing 12.04 as a
potentially applicable Listing of Impairment. He set forth the specific criteria that Plaintiff
must satisfy in order to be per se disabled under Listing 12.04. The ALJ then explained
why Plaintiff’s depressive disorder did not meet the requirements of that Listing, based
upon her medical records and hearing testimony. Thus, there is substantial evidence to
support his findings at Step 3.
The ALJ’s credibility assessment is supported by substantial evidence
When a claimant’s complaints regarding the intensity and persistence of his or her
symptoms are unsupported by objective medical evidence, the ALJ must make a credibility
determination “based on a consideration of the entire case record.” Rogers v. Comm’r of
Social Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 247 (6th Cir. 2007)(quoting Soc. Sec. Rul. 96-7p, 1996 WL
374186 at *4 (July 2, 1996)). “The entire case record includes any medical signs and lab
findings, the claimant’s own complaints of symptoms, any information provided by the
treating physicians and others, as well as any other relevant evidence contained in the
record.” Id. Consistency between the claimant’s complaints and the case record supports
claimant’s credibility while “inconsistency, although not necessarily defeating, should have
the opposite effect.” Id. at 247-48. Credibility determinations cannot be based solely on
intangible or intuitive notions. Id. at 247.
Once the ALJ makes a credibility determination, the ALJ must explain his or her
decision with enough specificity “to make clear to the individual and to any subsequent
reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave to the individual’s statements and the reasons
for the weight.” Id. at 248 (quoting Soc. Sec. Rul. 96-7p, 1996 WL 374186, at *2 (Dec. 2,
1996)); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529. Blanket assertions that the claimant is not
believable will not suffice, nor will credibility explanations “which are not consistent with the
entire record and the weight of the relevant evidence.” Id. Reviewing courts must give
great weight and deference to the ALJ’s credibility determination. Id.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to give proper weight to her complaints of pain.
(Doc. # 11-1 at 3). In support of this assertion, Plaintiff cites to her own testimony that she
had “sharp and stabbing” lower back pain that radiated into her legs. (Id.; Tr. 34). She also
stated that she was never “completely pain free.” (Tr. 34). Again, Plaintiff misunderstands
the nature of Social Security appeals. Even if this Court were inclined to give Plaintiff’s
statements more weight than the ALJ did, this alone is not grounds to disturb the ALJ’s
credibility assessment. His determination must stand unless Plaintiff can show that the ALJ
failed to explain his decision with sufficient specificity, rendered a decision that is
unsupported by substantial evidence or made blanket assertions about her believability.
Because Plaintiff has failed to identify specific flaws in the ALJ’s credibility assessment, the
Court can do no more than broadly review his analysis to see if it is supported by
At the fourth step of the disability determination process, the ALJ carefully reviewed
a variety of treatment notes and medical records, then compared them against Plaintiff’s
own testimony about the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of her symptoms. (Tr.
17-21). He found that “[t]he claimant is not fully credible, particularly with regard to her
allegations of pain, limitations, and overall disability as the weight of the medical evidence
does not substantially support the claimant’s allegations.” (Tr. 20). The ALJ explained that
Plaintiff “alleges back pain, hip pain and shoulder pain and heart problems keep her from
working; however, treatment records submitted do not reflect clinical findings such as x-ray
imaging or MRI scans to show impairment to the upper or lower extremities and she is
neurologically intact.” (Tr. 20, 34, 196-203). He further noted that Plaintiff’s physical
examinations were normal and she recovered well from coronary artery bypass graft
surgery. (Tr. 20, 263-292, 469-71). Although Plaintiff testified that she could not sit for
more than five minutes, “third party statements indicate the claimant sits for a couple of
hours watching television, then sits for a couple of hours following dinner and sits through
church services.” (Tr. 20, 36-38). Plaintiff also testified to continuing chest pain, which “is
not consistent with what she related to the consultative examiner that she had no chest
pain.” (Tr. 20, 48-50, 469-71).
As illustrated above, the ALJ conducted a detailed review of the medical evidence
in the record, summarized key aspects of Plaintiff’s testimony and highlighted the
inconsistencies between the two. He then provided an articulate summary of his reasons
for finding that Plaintiff was not entirely credible. His analysis not only provides enough
detail to facilitate meaningful review, it dispenses with any suggestion that he relied on
intuitive notions or failed to properly review the record in rendering his assessment.
Considering the ALJ’s thorough credibility assessment and the level of deference afforded
to such determinations, the Court simply cannot conclude that his finding was unsupported
by substantial evidence.
The ALJ’s residual functional capacity assessment is supported by
A residual functional capacity (“RFC”) is “an administrative assessment of the extent
to which an individual’s medically determinable impairment(s), including any related
symptoms, such as pain, may cause physical or mental limitations or restrictions that may
affect his or her capacity to do work-related physical and mental activities.” Soc. Sec. Rul.
96-8p, 61 Fed. Reg. 34474, 34475 (Jul. 2, 1996). Stated another way, the RFC is “what
an individual can still do despite his or her limitations.” Id. “In assessing the total limiting
effects of [the claimant’s] impairment(s) and any related symptoms, [the Agency] will
consider all of the medical and nonmedical evidence.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(e).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in finding that she had the RFC to perform a
reduced range of light work. In fact, Plaintiff contends that she is unable to perform
sedentary work because she cannot lift up to ten pounds or ambulate effectively. She
supports this assertion with her own testimony that she cannot lift anything heavier than a
milk jug and uses the electronic carts at Wal-Mart. (Doc. # 11-1 at 7-8; Tr. 38-40). To the
extent that Plaintiff once again asks the Court to overstep its bounds and re-weigh the
evidence or re-assess her credibility, the Court must decline the invitation. Because
Plaintiff failed to identify specific defects in the ALJ’s analysis, such as improper weighing
of physicians’ opinions or medical records, the Court can only conduct a broad review of
the ALJ’s RFC assessment.
At the fourth step of the disability determination analysis, the ALJ considered all
relevant evidence of record and afforded great weight to the opinions of two consultative
examiners. Physical examiner Dr. Mark V. Burns found that Plaintiff was “neurologically
intact with normal gross manipulation and grip strength and range of motion was within
normal limits in the upper or lower extremities.” (Tr. 19, 468-73). Her straight leg raises
were negative in both sitting and supine positions and there was no evidence of tenderness
or spasms in her back. (Id.). Dr. Burns concluded that she “should be able to lift, push,
pull, bend, stoop, squat, kneel, crawl, crouch and climb without difficulty.” (Id.). Mental
evaluator Dr. Timothy L. Baggs found that Plaintiff had “mild generalized anxiety and mild
to possibly moderate depression secondary to anxiety disorder not otherwise specified,
dysthymic disorder, and chronic mild to moderate major depressive disorder.” (Tr. 19, 45767). However, she was “oriented to person, place and time” and her memory was intact.
(Id.). Dr. Baggs concluded that Plaintiff “has the ability to understand and remember simple
instructions and mild to moderate difficulty relating effectively with others and adapting to
normal work pressure and stress.” (Id.).
The ALJ gave some weight to a state agency finding that Plaintiff was limited to
medium work, but ultimately determined that she should be limited to light work due to leg
edema that developed after her heart surgery. (Tr. 20, 474-77). The ALJ also considered
a third party function report completed by Plaintiff’s daughter, although he noted that her
statements were entitled to less weight than the consultative examiners’ opinions because
she was not a medical professional or a disinterested third party. (Tr. 20, 195-203).
Plaintiff’s own testimony was also taken into account, although the ALJ found that she was
not entirely credible, for reasons stated above. (Id.).
In reviewing this analysis, the Court notes that the ALJ considered opinion evidence
from a variety of sources, compared those opinions against the objective medical evidence
and determined how much weight to afford those opinions. He then factored all reasonable
limitations into Plaintiff’s RFC assessment, taking care to explain how he weighed the
opinions and why he found the incorporated limitations to be credible. Thus, there is
substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s finding that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light
The ALJ’s finding that Plaintiff has not been under a disability is
supported by substantial evidence
At Step 5, ALJs may consider “‘reliable job information’” from various vocational
publications “as evidence of the claimant’s ability to do other work ‘that exists in the national
economy.” Lindsley v. Comm’r of Social Sec., 560 F.3d 601, 603 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Soc. Sec. Rul. 00-4p, 2000 WL 1898704, at *2 (Dec. 4, 2000)); see also 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1566(d), 416.966(d). Such publications include the Dictionary of Occupational Titles,
which “includes information about jobs (classified by their exertional and skill requirements)
that exist in the national economy.” Id. (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.969). ALJs may also
“consider the testimony of so-called ‘vocational experts’ (“VEs”) as a source of occupational
evidence.” Id. (citing S.S.R. 00-4p, 2000 WL 1898704, at *2).
In posing a hypothetical question to a vocational expert, an ALJ must accurately
describe Plaintiff’s functional limitations. Varley v. Sec’y of Health and Human Servs., 820
F.2d 777, 779. (6th Cir. 1987). However, the ALJ need only incorporate those limitations
he finds to be credible. Casey v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1235
(6th Cir. 1993).
At first blush, Plaintiff’s argument seems to attack the ALJ’s Step 5 analysis, as she
objects to his finding of “not disabled.” (Doc. # 11-1 at 8). However, Plaintiff proceeds to
argue that she meets the definition of “disabled,” citing to medical evidence that has already
been treated at length. Thus, it is difficult to tell whether Plaintiff is simply recapitulating
arguments raised earlier in her Motion or objecting to the hypothetical question posed to
the VE. If the former, the Court will simply stand upon its analysis thus far. If the latter, the
Court notes that the ALJ is only obliged to incorporate the limitations that she finds to be
credible. In this case, the ALJ asked the VE to suppose someone with Plaintiff’s age (48),
education (high school), work experience (none) and residual functional capacity (light
unskilled), and asked whether jobs exist in the national economy for such an individual.
(Tr. 21-22). Because the ALJ’s RFC assessment is supported by substantial evidence, and
because the ALJ incorporated all credible limitations into the hypothetical posed to the VE,
the Court finds no error.
Plaintiff should not be found totally and permanently disabled from
June 1, 2000.
Plaintiff’s final argument pertains to the onset date of her disability. However, the
Court has affirmed the ALJ’s finding of “not disabled.” Absent a disability, there is no onset
date. Thus, this argument is a moot point.
Accordingly, for the reasons stated herein, IT IS ORDERED as follows:
The decision of the Commissioner is found to be supported by substantial
evidence and is hereby AFFIRMED;
Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 11) is hereby DENIED;
Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 12) is hereby GRANTED.
A Judgment in favor of Defendant Commissioner will be entered contemporaneously
This 29th day of April, 2015.
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