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Hale v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

May 30, 2014

JESSE HALE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.

This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment. [Record Nos. 8, 9] Plaintiff Jesse Hale argues that the administrative law judge ("ALJ") assigned to his case erred in evaluating his impairments and their combined effect on his ability to work. He also contends that the ALJ erred in considering and weighing the treatment records and evaluations from his physicians. As a result, Hale seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and an award of benefits. Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"), contends that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Commissioner's motion and deny the relief sought by Hale.

I.

On September 27, 2010, Hale applied for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). [ See Administrative Transcript, pp. 155-64; hereafter, "Tr."] He alleges a disability beginning June 30, 2009.[1] [ Id. ] Hale's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr., p. 12] On March 15, 2012, an administrative hearing was conducted via video by ALJ Gloria York. [ Id. ] Hale appeared and testified, represented by attorney John C. Collins. [ Id. ] A vocational expert ("VE"), Joyce P. Forrest, also testified at the hearing. [ Id. ]

Hale was thirty-seven years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. He has a high school education and previously worked as a pipe-fitter and heavy equipment operator. [Tr., p. 201, 211] Hale claims to be disabled due to back pain, neck pain and leg pain, headaches, seizures, memory loss, acid reflux, vertebrae problems, right hand numbness, and bulging discs [Tr., p. 210] After reviewing the record and testimony presented during the administrative hearing, ALJ York concluded that Hale suffered from the severe impairments of chronic low back pain with degenerative disc disease, a seizure disorder, and a depressive disorder. [Tr., p. 15]

Notwithstanding his impairments, the ALJ determined that Hale maintained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a limited range of light work, subject to the following limitations:

[Hale] can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently and stand and walk six hours out of eight; however, he requires normal seizure precautions in that he cannot work around unprotected heights, hazardous machinery, hazards, or climb, and he has a slight limitation in his ability to understand, remember, and carry out simple repetitive tasks; a moderate limitation in his ability to tolerate the stress and pressure of day to day employment; a slight limitation in the ability to sustain attention and concentration toward the performance of simple repetitive tasks; and no limitation in his ability to respond appropriately to supervisors and co-workers in a work setting.

[Tr., p. 16]

ALJ York determined that Hale could not perform past relevant work. [Tr., p. 19] However, based on the VE's testimony, and after considering Hale's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that Hale could perform other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, such as a cashier/counter clerk, a general clerk, and a laborer/hand packer. [Tr., p. 20] Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded that Hale was not disabled under the Act.

II.

Under the Social Security Act, a "disability" is defined as "the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity' because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment of at least one year's expected duration." Cruse v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 502 F.3d 532, 539 (6th Cir. 2007). A claimant's Social Security disability determination is made by an ALJ in accordance with "a five-step sequential evaluation process.'" Combs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 642 (6th Cir. 2006) (en banc) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)). If the claimant satisfies the first four steps of the process, the burden shifts to the Commissioner with respect to the fifth step. See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003).

First, the claimant must demonstrate that he is not engaged in substantial gainful employment at the time of the disability application. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). Second, the claimant must show that he suffers from a severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). Third, if the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful employment and has a severe impairment which is expected to last for at least twelve months and which meets or equals a listed impairment, he will be considered disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). Fourth, if the Commissioner cannot make a determination of disability based on medical evaluations and current work activity and the claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner will then review the claimant's RFC and relevant past work to determine whether he can perform his past work. If he can, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f).

Under the fifth step of the analysis, if the claimant's impairment prevents him from doing past work, the Commissioner will consider his RFC, age, education, and past work experience to determine whether he can perform other work. If he cannot perform other work, the Commissioner will find the claimant disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g). The Commissioner has the burden of proof only on "the fifth step, proving that there is work available in the economy that the claimant can perform." White v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 312 F.Appx. 779, 785 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th Cir. 1999)).

The Court's standard of review of the Commissioner's determination "is both familiar and limited." Kobetic v. Comm'r, 114 F.Appx. 171, 173 (6th Cir. 2004). Judicial review of the denial of a claim for Social Security benefits is limited to determining whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007). The substantialevidence standard presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which decision makers can go either way, without interference from the court . McClanahan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006). Substantial evidence is such relevant ...


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