United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville
DAVE WHALIN, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Jonathon Michael King has filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g) to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security that denied his applications for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI). King applied for DIB and SSI on March 22 and 26 2010, respectively, alleging that he was disabled as of August 27, 2006, due to Crohn's disease, arthritis, anxiety and depression (Tr. 61, 139-40; 62, 141-44). The Commissioner denied King's claims on initial consideration (Tr. 61-62, 63-64) and on reconsideration (Tr. 86-88, 89-91). King requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) (Tr. 92-93).
ALJ Mark Siegel conducted a video hearing from Knoxville, Tennessee, on Jan. 24, 2012 (Tr. 32-60). King attended with his attorney, Alvin Wax (Tr. 32). King and vocational expert (VE) Jo Ann Bullard testified at the hearing (Tr. 38-56, 57-60). Following the conclusion of the hearing, ALJ Siegel entered a hearing decision on Feb. 7, 2012, that found King is not disabled for the purposes of the Social Security Act (Tr. 19-27).
In his adverse decision, ALJ Siegel made the following findings:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through Sept. 30, 2010.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since Aug. 27, 2006, the alleged onset date (20 C.F.R. 404.1571, et seq. and 416.971, et seq. ).
2. The claimant has the following servere impairments: Crohn's disease and cervical degenerative disk disease (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform less than a full range of light work. He is limited to occasional postural activities. He can only frequently reach, handle or finger with his left hand.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 C.F.R. 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on March 8, 1978, and was 28-years-old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 C.F.R. 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has at least a high-school education and is able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. 404.1564 and 416.964).
9. Transferability of job skills is not an issue in this case because the claimant's past relevant work is unskilled. (20 C.F.R. Part 404.1568 and 416.968).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 C.F.R. 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969 and 416.969(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from Aug. 27, 2006, through the date of this decision (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).
(Tr. 21-26). King sought review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council (Tr. 15). The Appeals Council denied his request for review, finding no reason under the Rules to review ALJ Siegel's decision (Tr. 1-6). The present lawsuit followed.
The Five-Step Sequential Evaluation Process.
Disability is defined by law as being the inability to do substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death, or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. See, 20 CFR §§ 404.1505, 416.905(a). To determine whether a claimant for DIB or SSI benefits satisfies such definition, a 5-step evaluation process has been developed. 20 CFR §§ 404.1520, 916.920(a). At step 1, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; if so, the Commissioner will find the claimant to be not disabled. See, 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(ii), 416.971. See, Dinkel v. Secretary, 910 F.2d, 315, 318 (6th Cir. 1990).
If the claimant is not working, then the Commissioner next must determine at step 2 of the evaluation process whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of severe impairments that significantly limit his or her ability to perform basic work activities. See 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the impairments of the claimant are determined by the Commissioner to be non-severe, in other words, so slight that they could not result in a finding of disability irrespective of a claimant's vocational factors, then the claimant will be determined to be not disabled at step 2. See, Higgs v. Bowen, 880 F.2d 960, 962 (6th Cir. 1988); Mowery v. Heckler, 771 F.2d 966, 971-72 (6th Cir. 1985).
If the claimant has a severe impairment or impairments, then the Commissioner at step 3 of the process will determine whether such impairments are sufficiently serious to satisfy the listing of impairments found in Appendix 1 of Subpart B of Part 404 of the federal regulations. 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(A)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii) The claimant will be determined to be automatically disabled without consideration of his or her age, education or work experience if the claimant's impairments are sufficiently severe to meet or equal the criteria of any impairment listed in the Appendix. See, Lankford v. Sullivan, 942 F.2d 301, 306 (6th Cir. 1991); Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990).
When the severity of the claimant's impairments does not meet or equal the listings, then the Commissioner must determine at step 4 whether the claimant retains the residual functional capacity (RFC) given his or her impairments to permit a return to any of his or her past relevant work. 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). See, Smith v. Secretary, 893 F.2d 106, 109-110 (6th Cir. 1989). A claimant who retains the residual functional capacity, despite his or her severe impairments, to perform past relevant work is not disabled. 20 CFR §§ 404.1560(b)(3), 416.960(b)(3) The burden switches to the Commissioner at step 5 of the sequential evaluation process to establish that the claimant, who cannot return to his or her past relevant work, remains capable of performing alternative work in the national economy given his or her residual functional capacity, age, education and past relevant work experience. See, 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1560(c), 416.920(a)(4)(v), 416.960(c); Felisky v. Bowen, 35 F.3d 1027, 1035 (6th Cir. 1994); Herr v. Commissioner, 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th Cir. 1999). Collectively, the above disability evaluation analysis is commonly referred to as the "5-step sequential evaluation process."
Standard of Review.
Review of a decision of the Commissioner is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The statute, and case law that interprets it, require a reviewing court to affirm the findings of the Commissioner if they are supported by substantial evidence and the Commissioner has employed the appropriate legal standard. Walters v. Commissioner of Social Security, 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997) ("This Court must affirm the Commissioner's conclusions absent a determination that the Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standards or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.). Substantial evidence is defined by the Supreme Court to be "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). See also, Lashley v. Sec'y of HHS, 708 F.2d 1048, 1053 (6th Cir. 1983) (citing Perales ). It is more than a mere scintilla of evidence or evidence that merely creates the suspicion of the existence of a fact, but must be enough evidence to justify a refusal to direct a verdict if the matter were tried to a jury. Sias v. Sec'y of HHS, 861 F.2d 475, 479 n. 1 (6th Cir. 1988).
The substantiality of the evidence is to be determined based upon a review of the record taken as a whole, not simply some evidence, but rather the entirety of the record to include those portions that detract from its weight. Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984); Laskowski v. Apfel, 100 F.Supp.2d 474, 482 (E.D. Mich. 2000). So long as the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence, it must be upheld by the federal court even if the record might support a contrary conclusion. Smith v. Sec'y of HHS, 893 F.2d 106, 108 (6th Cir. 1989). The substantial evidence standard "presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which decision makers can go either way, without interference from the courts." Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) ( en banc ).
Claimant Jonathan Michael King was born March 8, 1978 and was 28 years old at the time of the hearing decision of Feb. 7, 2012 (Tr. 139). He stands 5' 8" tall and weighs 180 lbs (Tr. 501). King is a high school graduate and holds an associate degree in computer networking from Sullivan College (Tr. 39). He is divorced, lives with his parents, and has not worked since 2006 (Tr. 38-39, 490). His most recent employment was as a retail clerk in a video store where he worked for one and a half years. Prior to that job, King worked as a laborer in a warehouse (Tr. 57, 491).
In the early1990s, King was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (Tr. 328, 331). His symptoms at that time were well controlled with no weight loss, bloody stools or hematemesis or melena (Tr. 326). Medical records from the late 1990s indicate only minor flare-ups of abdominal pain at the time, which occurred well prior to his alleged disability onset date of Aug. 27, 2006. (Tr. 323, 326). King was ...