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Davis v. Colvin

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

November 27, 2013

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.

This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Kenneth Earl Davis, Jr. ("Davis" or "the Claimant") and Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"). [Record Nos. 12, 13] Davis argues that the administrative law judge ("ALJ") erred in finding that he is not entitled to a period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"), and Supplemental Security Insurance ("SSI") under the Social Security Act ("Act"). He seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and an award of benefits. Alternatively Davis asks the Court to remand the matter for further consideration of his claim. The Commissioner asserts that the ALJ's decision was proper and should be affirmed. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Commissioner's motion and deny the relief sought by Davis.


On September 8, 2010, Davis applied for a period of disability and DIB under Title II of the Act, and SSI under Title XVI of the Act. [Tr., pp. 160-66, 167-73] He alleged a disability beginning April 1, 2009. [Tr., p. 160] Davis' applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr., pp. 17-27] Davis, along with his attorney John Grigsby and vocational expert ("VE") Dr. James Miller, appeared before ALJ Tommye C. Mangus on September 29, 2011, for an administrative hearing. [Tr., p. 17] In a decision dated December 19, 2011, ALJ Mangus found that Davis was not disabled under sections 216(i), 223(d), or 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Act. [Tr., p. 27]

Davis was fifty-one years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. [Tr., p. 160] He has a ninth grade education and has obtained a graduate equivalent degree ("GED"). [Tr., pp. 19, 36] Davis previously worked as a shipping and receiving worker, and as a newspaper delivery person. [Tr., pp. 55-56] His alleged disability stems from anxiety, characterized by panic attacks, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder ("OCD"), and low back pain. [Tr., p. 19]

After reviewing the record and the testimony presented during the administrative hearing, the ALJ concluded that Davis suffered from a combination of severe impairments, including: "bipolar disorder with mixed anxiety and depression, anti-social personality disorder, and a history of alcohol abuse in full sustained remission." [Tr., p. 19] Notwithstanding these impairments, ALJ Mangus found that Davis retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels involving:

understanding and remembering simple instructions that require only brief initial learning periods; the ability to maintain attention and concentration for simple tasks requiring minimal variations, and do so for 2-hour segments during an 8-hour day; no more than occasional public contact; and adaptation to workplace changes that [are] infrequent and gradually introduced.

[Tr., p. 22]

Based on the testimony of VE Miller, the ALJ found that Davis could not perform past relevant work. [Tr., pp. 25-26] However, after considering his age, education, work experience, and RFC, she found that Davis could perform other jobs, such as janitor, hand packer, dishwasher, and hand assembler. [Tr., pp. 26-27] And based on his finding that Davis could perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy, the ALJ concluded that Davis was not disabled. As a result of this assessment, Davis was denied a period of disability, DIB, and SSI. [ Id. ]


Under the Social Security Act, a "disability" is defined as "the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity' because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment of at least one year's expected duration." Cruse v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 502 F.3d 532, 539 (6th Cir. 2007). A claimant's Social Security disability determination is made by an ALJ in accordance with "a five-step sequential evaluation process.'" Combs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 642 (6th Cir. 2006) (en banc) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)). If the claimant satisfies the first four steps of the process, the burden shifts to the Commissioner with respect to the fifth step. See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003).

First, the claimant must demonstrate that he is not engaged in substantial gainful employment at the time of the disability application. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). Second, the claimant must show that he suffers from a severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). Third, if the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful employment and has a severe impairment which is expected to last for at least twelve months and which meets or equals a listed impairment, he will be considered disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). Fourth, if the Commissioner cannot make a determination of disability based on medical evaluations and current work activity and the claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner will then review the claimant's RFC and relevant past work to determine whether he can perform his past work. If he can, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f).

Under the fifth step of the analysis, if the claimant's impairment prevents him from doing past work, the Commissioner will consider his RFC, age, education, and past work experience to determine whether he can perform other work. If he cannot perform other work, the Commissioner will find the claimant disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g). The Commissioner has the burden of proof only on "the fifth step, proving that there is work available in the economy that the claimant can perform.'" White v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 312 F.Appx. 779, 785 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th Cir. 1999)).

Judicial review of the denial of a claim for Social Security benefits is limited to determining whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007). The substantial-evidence standard presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which decision makers can go either way, without interference from the court. McClanahan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as sufficient to support the conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007).

If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed even if the Court would decide the case differently and even if the claimant's position is also supported by substantial evidence. Smith v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 482 F.3d 873, 876 (6th Cir. 2007); Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007); Longworth v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005); Casey v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993). In ...

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