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Mallott v. Colvin

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

June 9, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.

This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff John Raymon Mallott ("Mallott" or "the Claimant") and Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"). [Record Nos. 9, 10] Mallott argues that the administrative law judge ("ALJ") incorrectly found that he could effectively ambulate, failed to identify the evidence supported the residual functional capacity ("RFC") determination, did not accurately describe his limitations when posing a hypothetical question to the vocational expert ("VE"), and inappropriately assessed his credibility. As a result, Mallott seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and an award of benefits. Alternatively, he asks for remand for further consideration of his claims. 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 Mallott.


On February 7, 2011, Mallott applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging a disability beginning August 31, 2010. [ See Administrative Transcript, pp. 162-63; hereafter, "Tr."] His applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. [ Id., pp. 56-87] On June 25, 2012, an administrative hearing was held before ALJ Roger J. Reynolds in Lexington, Kentucky. [ Id., p. 27] Mallott appeared and testified, represented by attorney William Grover Arnett. [ Id. ] VE Joyce Forrest also testified during the hearing. [ Id. ] Mallott was thirty-eight years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. [ Id., p. 20] He has a tenth grade education and past work as a cabinet maker and pallet builder. [ Id., p. 14] At the time he applied for benefits, Mallott claimed to be disabled due to a deterioration of the spine, lower back pain, and nerve damage "on skin." [ Id., p. 185]

After reviewing the record and testimony presented during the administrative hearing, ALJ Reynolds concluded that Mallott suffered from the severe impairments of borderline intellectual functioning, mild obesity, degenerative disc disease with mind congenital canal stenosis and disc protrusion, right shoulder rotator cuff stenosis, and a learning disorder in reading. [ Id., p. 14] Notwithstanding these impairments, the ALJ determined that Mallott maintained the RFC to perform light and sedentary work, subject to the following limitations:

no climbing of ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; occasional climbing of stairs or ramps; occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching or crawling; occasional use of the right upper extremity for pushing, pulling or overhead work. [Mallott] requires entry level work with simple repetitive 1-2-3 step procedures, no frequent changes in work routines, no requirement for detailed or complex problem solving, independent planning or the setting of goals.

[ Id., p. 19]

Based on the testimony of VE Forrest, ALJ Reynolds determined that Mallott could not perform past relevant work. [ Id., p. 20] However, after considering his age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that he could perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, such as inspector, tester, sorter, grader, labor or hand packer, and light commercial cleaner. [ Id., p. 21] As a result, the ALJ concluded that Mallott was not disabled under the Social Security Act.


Under the 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). Second, the claimant must show that he suffers from a severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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). 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).

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). 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.App'x 779, 785 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th Cir. 1999)).

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 substantial evidence 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 evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as sufficient to support the conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007).

If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed even if the Court would decide the case differently and even if the claimant's position is also supported by substantial evidence. Smith v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 482 F.3d 873, 876 (6th Cir. 2007); Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007); Longworth v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005); Casey v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993). ...

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