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Dunn v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

September 22, 2014

LISA DUNN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

ORDER

DANIEL P. JORDAN, III, District Judge.

This social-security appeal is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation [14] of Magistrate Judge F. Keith Ball. Having fully considered the premises, the Court finds that the Report and Recommendation should be adopted and the decision of the ALJ affirmed.

I. Facts and Procedural History

Plaintiff Lisa Dunn maintains that she is disabled due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"). Dunn filed for disability-insurance benefits and supplemental-security income in 2010. Her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Dunn then requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, who likewise found she was not disabled.[1] Aggrieved, Dunn filed this appeal.

After considering the administrative record, along with the parties' competing motions for summary judgment, Judge Ball recommended affirming the decision of the ALJ. Dunn filed Objections [15], to which the Commissioner responded [16]. Primarily, Dunn takes issue with the ALJ's mention of 20 C.F.R. § 416.930, a regulation detailing a requirement that a claimant follow the treatment prescribed by his or her physician.

II. Standard of Review

In reviewing the ALJ's decision, this Court may only inquire into (1) whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's findings and (2) whether the correct legal standards were applied in evaluating the evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Hollis v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 1378, 1382 (5th Cir. 1988). Substantial evidence has been defined as "more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Adams v. Bowen, 833 F.2d 509, 511 (5th Cir. 1987).

III. Decision of the ALJ

A. Claim Evaluation

To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ employs a five-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). First, the claimant must prove she is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. Id. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). Second, the claimant must prove that her impairment, or combination of impairments, is "severe." Id. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). At step three, disability will be found if the claimant meets or exceeds one of the impairments contained in the Listing of Impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). Fourth, if disability cannot be found based on the claimant's medical status alone, she must show that her impairment(s) prevent her from returning to her past relevant work. Id. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). At steps one through four, the burden of proof rests with the claimant to show she is disabled. Crowley v. Apfel, 197 F.3d 194, 198 (5th Cir. 1999). If she satisfies this burden, it shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show there is other gainful employment the claimant can perform, given her residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant cannot adjust to other work, she is disabled. Id. A finding that the claimant is disabled or not disabled at any step in the process ends the analysis. Harrell v. Bowen, 862 F.2d 471, 475 (5th Cir. 1988).

B. Dunn's Disability Determination

Here, in steps one and two, the ALJ found that Dunn had not engaged in substantial gainful activity for several years and had the following severe impairments: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and bronchiectasis. He then concluded in step three that she does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.

Specifically, the ALJ examined the following listings found in Appendix 1: 3.02 Chronic Pulmonary Insufficiency, 3.03B Asthma, and 3.07 Bronchiectasis. First, he found that Dunn's pulmonary-function testing results did not meet listing 3.02 Chronic Pulmonary Insufficiency, a finding which is not challenged. Second, he considered listing 3.03B Asthma, which requires at least six asthma attacks per year "in spite of prescribed treatment." The ALJ found that Dunn could not meet this standard for failure to quit smoking:

Additionally and significantly, while there is no evidence to suggest the claimant has not been compliant with her medication, she has not been fully compliant with her physicians' treatment plans because she continues to engage in tobacco use. As such, the claimant has failed ...

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