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Fugate v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

April 11, 2014

HARRY FUGATE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

DAVID L. BUNNING, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. (Docs. #10 & 11). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion (Doc. #10) shall be denied, and Defendant's motion shall be granted.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Harry Fugate is a resident of Bonnyman, Kentucky. (Doc. #8-1, at 6). Though he was formerly employed as a butcher, he no longer works and allegedly suffers from back pain and shoulder pain. ( Id. at 18). At his hearing, Plaintiff testified that he regularly seeks mental health treatment for debilitating depression and anxiety. ( Id. ) These problems sometimes make it difficult for Plaintiff to leave the home. ( Id. )

Plaintiff first applied for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits on March 5, 2010. ( Id . at 12). That application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and was pending a hearing before an ALJ when Plaintiff withdrew the application. ( Id. ) Plaintiff then filed another application on February 22, 2011, for disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging the same onset date. ( Id. ) That second application was denied initially, upon reconsideration, and after a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Don Paris. ( Id. at 22, 79-82).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

The Court's review is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's decision followed proper legal standards and whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007). Under this deferential standard, courts will not substitute their judgment for that of the ALJ. Id. The Court does not resolve evidentiary conflicts or decide questions of credibility. Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). Interpretations of statutes and agency regulations are questions of law, which the Court will review de novo. Smith v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 482 F.3d 873, 876 (6th Cir. 2007).

B. The five-step process and the residual functional capacity

In deciding whether to award disability benefits, the ALJ must proceed through a five-step analysis. Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001). At step one, the ALJ determines whether the applicant is gainfully employed. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). At step two, the issue is whether the applicant suffers from any serious physical or mental impairments. Id . at § 1520(c). Assuming the answer is yes, the ALJ then considers whether the applicant's impairments are among those listed in Social Security regulations, such that the applicant is presumed disabled. Id. at § 1520(d).

Neither party disputes the ALJ's fact finding with regards to the first three steps: Plaintiff is not currently employed and does suffer from some significant impairments, but none of these impairments are among those listed in agency regulations. The ALJ found as much in his written opinion. (Doc. #7-1 at 21).

If a claimant's impairments fail to qualify as a listed impairment under agency regulations, the ALJ must then prepare a residual functional capacity (RFC). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). This RFC is used at both steps four and five of the decision making process. Id. at § 1520(a)(4). At step four, the ALJ decides, in light of the RFC, whether the claimant can perform any past relevant work. Id. at § 1520(a)(4)(iv). If so, then the claimant is not eligible for benefits. Id. If not, the ALJ then considers alternative work the claimant could do, and evaluates whether enough of that work exists in the national economy to preclude an award of disability ...


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