United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division
For Joshua Ray Shults, Plaintiff: Dennis M. Stutsman, LEAD ATTORNEY, Lexington, KY.
For SSA, Defendant: John S. Osborn, III, U.S. Attorney's Office, EDKY, Lexington, KY.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
David L. Bunning, United States District Judge.
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 substantial evidence.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff Joshua Ray Schults filed his current application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) payments, alleging disability as of February 25, 2007. (Tr. 233-44). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 138-47). On June 22, 2009, Administrative Law Judge Roger L. Reynolds conducted an administrative hearing at Plaintiff's request. (Tr. 173-89). ALJ Reynolds ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits on October 25, 2009. (Tr. 124-37).
The Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review, vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded the case to the ALJ for further proceedings. (Tr. 118-23). The Council's remand instructions directed the ALJ to do the following: (1) remove exhibits from the record that did not pertain to Plaintiff; (2) " [o]btain additional evidence concerning the claimant's impairments, particularly Marfan's syndrome, in order to complete the administrative record in accordance with the regulatory standards regarding consultative examinations and existing medical evidence; " and (3) associate Plaintiff's original claim file and the file from his subsequent December 9, 2009 claim. ( Id. ). After conducting another administrative hearing, the ALJ again denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on September 20, 2011. (Tr. 17-38). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on March 22, 2013. (Tr. 1-6).
On May 24, 2013, Plaintiff filed the instant action. (Doc. # 1). This matter has culminated in cross motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for review. (Docs. # 15 and 16).
A. 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 Soc. 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 Soc. 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).
B. The ALJ's Determination
At Step 1, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (Tr. 22). At Step 2, the ALJ found Plaintiff's Marfan's syndrome with thoracic aortic aneurysm (stable), major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder (NOS) with panic disorder, alcohol and marijuana abuse (allegedly in short term remission), hypertension, decreased vision in right eye, schizoaffective disorder and learning disorder to be severe impairments within the meaning of the regulations. (Tr. 23).
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 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 23-24). In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's Marfan's syndrome with thoracic aortic aneurysm did not meet the requirements of Listing 4.00 (cardiovascular system) or its subsections because he has not had a limited exercise tolerance test or drug-induced stress test, nor has he experienced chronic heart failure, ischemic episodes requiring revascularization, recurrent arrhythmias, systematic congenital heart disease, heart transplant or peripheral artery disease. (Tr. 23). The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff's mental impairments, considered singly and in combination, do not meet the requirements of Listing 12.03 (schizophrenic, paranoid and other psychotic disorders), Listing 12.04 (affective disorders), Listing 12.06 (anxiety related disorders) or Listing 12.09 (substance addiction disorders) because he has only moderate limitations in social functioning, as evidenced by his daily activities, and has not experienced episodes of decompensation. (Tr. 23-24).
At Step Four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a limited range of light work, as defined in 20 CFR § 404.1567(b) and 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b); that is:
[L]ifting and carrying up to twenty pounds in an eight hour day, except he cannot climb ropes ladders or scaffolds; cannot engage in more than occasional climbing of stairs or ramps; cannot engage in aerobic activities such as running or jumping; cannot work on fast paced assembly lines or rigid production schedules; cannot work with his hands over his head, work at heights, or balance; cannot engage in more than occasional stooping or crawling; cannot be exposed to concentrated dust, gases, smoke, fumes or poorly ventilated spaces; cannot be exposed to concentrated humidity, temperature extremes, vibration or industrial hazards; or perform work requiring acute vision or binocular vision. He requires entry level work with simple repetitive procedures; no frequent changes in work routines; and no requirement for detailed or complex problem solving, independent planning or the setting of goals. He should work in an object oriented environment with only occasional and casual contact with coworkers, supervisors or the general public.
( Id. ). The ALJ concluded that the claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. 28).
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. 28-29). The ALJ based ...