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Cox v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

February 28, 2014

DARIEL S. COX Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY Defendant.

FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND RECOMMENDATION

JAMES D. MOYER, Magistrate Judge.

The plaintiff, Dariel S. Cox filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g), seeking judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, who denied his application for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits (docket no. 1). At issue is whether the administrative law judge erred when he determined Mr. Cox's subjective claims of disabling back pain were not adequately supported by the medical evidence in the record. After reviewing the parties' submissions (docket nos. 12 and 15) and the administrative record (docket no. 10), the magistrate judge recommends that the district court affirm the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Mr. Cox applied for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits in February 2011 and alleged he became disabled as of January 2008.[1] After his application was denied initially and on reconsideration, Mr. Cox filed a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). The ALJ conducted the hearing in June 2012[2] and then in September 2012, issued a decision unfavorable to Mr. Cox by determining that none of his impairments met or equaled any Listed Impairment and that he retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work with certain restrictions.[3]

Mr. Cox timely appealed the administrative law judge's decision to the Appeals Council, which declined to review the decision of the ALJ.[4] He then timely appealed to this court, asserting that the ALJ erred by failing to follow the directives of 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(5)(A), which requires an ALJ to, among other things, consider "statements of the individual or his physician as to the intensity and persistence of such pain or other symptoms."[5]

II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

The district court must affirm the conclusions of the Commissioner of Social Security unless the administrative law judge failed to apply the correct legal standards or made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. §405(g); see also Jordan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 548 F.3d 417, 422 (6th Cir. 2008)(defining "substantial evidence" as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion" (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). If a reasonable mind could accept the evidence relied upon by the administrative law judge as adequate to support the challenged conclusion, this court cannot reject it, even if there exists evidence that could support a decision the other way. See Cotton v. Sec'y Health & Human Servs., 2 F.3d 692, 695 (6th Cir. 1993).

III. FINDINGS OF FACT

The ALJ determined that Mr. Cox suffered from the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, obesity, depression/dysthemic disorder, and a history of alcohol abuse in remission, and was therefore not capable of returning to his past relevant work, but retained the residual functional capacity to perform light unskilled work with certain restrictions.[6]

Mr. Cox does not challenge the ALJ's conclusions with respect to his other physical problems or his psychological impairments, but asserts that his back pain renders him completely unable to work, because it so severely interferes with his ability to walk, sit, stand, and sleep.[7] The ALJ considered Mr. Cox's subjective complaints regarding the severity of his back pain and its side effects ( e.g., fatigue), but concluded they were exaggerated and unreliable based on the medical evidence in the record.[8] Mr. Cox generally asserts that this conclusion was wrong and directs the court's attention to the following six specific issues.

A. Whether the ALJ Considered the Results of an X-ray taken in February 2011

On February 23, 2011, an x-ray was taken of Mr. Cox's lumbar spine.[9] The radiologist's report of the film stated:

FINDINGS There is normal alignment of the lumbar spine. There is decrease vertebral body height of T12 chronic in nature. There is narrowing of the disc space at L5-S1 with sclerosis and large osteophyte formation. The soft tissue is unremarkable.
IMPRESSION Severe degenerative disc changes at L5-S1. There is slight decreased vertebral body of L1 most likely chronic in nature.[10]

Mr. Cox asserts that his pain "can be largely explained by severe degenerative disease at L5-S1, " as shown in in the February 2011 x-ray, and asserts it is arguably the most important piece of evidence in the file, so the ALJ's failure to discuss ...


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