United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London
EDWARDS B. ATKINS, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Nicey Wilson, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to challenge the Defendant Commissioner's final decision denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). [Record No. 12]. This matter has been referred to the undersigned for preparation of a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). [Record No. 14]. Now ripe for decision on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, and for the reasons set forth herein, it is recommended that the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [Record No. 12] be denied, the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Record No. 13] be granted, and that Judgment be entered affirming the final decision of the Commissioner.
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND & PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On February 18, 2011, the Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income benefits. [Tr. 14]. In this application, the Plaintiff alleged disability since February 1, 2010. Id . In her Disability Report, Form SSA-3368, the Plaintiff claimed her work ability was limited due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), back pain and migraine headaches. [Tr. 117-123]. Her claim was denied initially [Tr. 21-22], and on reconsideration [Tr. 21-22]. After denial of her claim, Plaintiff requested a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). [Tr. 61-70].
On February 1, 2012, a hearing was held before ALJ Joel Todd Spangler. [Tr. 377-392]. The Plaintiff testified at the hearing, and was represented by Ronald Cox. [Tr. 377-392]. The ALJ also heard testimony from vocational expert Dr. Julian Nadolsky. [Tr. 377-392]. ALJ Spangler denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits in a written decision dated April 12, 2012. [Tr. 14-20]. In evaluating Plaintiff's claim, the ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation process to determine that she was not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; 416.920. At the first step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the date of her application for benefits. [Tr. 16]. Next, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, migraine headaches and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). [Tr. 16]. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. [Tr. 17-19].
Before proceeding to the fourth step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments left her with the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a limited range of light work as defined by the Regulations. [Tr. 19-21]. Specifically, with respect to her physical limitations, the ALJ described Plaintiff's residual functional capacity as follows:
Claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b), except the work should not call for climbing of ropes, ladders or scaffolds, nor should it provide any concentration exposure to pulmonary irritants, such as odors, gases and areas of poor ventilation. Further, any work must not involve any exposure to workplace hazards, such as moving machinery or unprotected heights.
The fourth step of the analysis is to determine whether the Plaintiff's residual functional capacity would allow her to perform the requirements of her past relevant work. The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had no relevant employment. [Tr. 19]. At the fifth and final step, relying on the testimony of the Vocational Expert ("VE") and taking into consideration Plaintiff's age, educational background, past relevant work experience, and residual functional capacity, the ALJ must determine whether the Plaintiff is capable of making a successful adjustment to work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.159(a); 416.969(a). Based on the testimony of the Vocational Expert, the ALJ held that, "[c]onsidering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, the claimant is capable of making a successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy...." [Tr. 20]. Based on these findings, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff was not under a "disability" as defined by the Social Security Act. [Tr. 20].
Following the adverse decision of the ALJ, the Plaintiff properly exhausted her administrative remedies by appealing to the Social Security Appeals Council. [Tr. 14]. On appeal, the Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's decision. [Tr. 14]. On November 26, 2012, Plaintiff initiated the present action by filing her Complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. [Record No. 2]. In her Motion for Summary Judgment, the Plaintiff argues for the reversal of the ALJ's decision based on the Commissioner's failure to properly apply the Sixth Circuit pain standard and failure to support his findings with substantial evidence. [Record No. 12-1]. The Commissioner responds that the ALJ's decision should be affirmed, as it was reached applying the proper pain standard and was supported by substantial evidence. [Record No. 13]. Following briefing, this matter was referred to the undersigned for preparation of a Report and Recommendation. [Record No. 14].
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a reviewing court "must affirm the Commissioner's conclusions absent a determination that the Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standard or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record." Longworth v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. , 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). The scope of judicial review is limited to the record itself, and the reviewing court "may not try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in evidence, nor decide questions of credibility." Hogg v. Sullivan , 987 F.2d 328, 331 (6th Cir. 1993) (citations omitted).
The Sixth Circuit has held that "substantial evidence exists when a reasonable mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to support a conclusion." Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. , 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). The limited nature of substantial evidence review prevents the reviewing court from substituting its judgment for that of the ALJ. Rather, so long as substantial evidence exists, the reviewing court should affirm the ALJ's decision "even if there is substantial evidence in the record that would have supported an opposite conclusion." Longworth , 402 F.3d at 595 (citations omitted). Substantial evidence is "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." Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. , 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). "The ...