United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
DAVID L. BUNNING, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's and Defendant's cross-motions for summary judgment. (Docs. #11 & 12). For the reasons stated below, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's judgment, as it is supported by substantial evidence.
II. Factual and Procedural History
Plaintiff Timothy Gilley comes to the Court after many years of experience with the
Social Security disability application process. He first applied for supplemental security income on November 7, 2007, but his application was denied initially, upon reconsideration, and in a written opinion by Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Edwin W. Tyler. While Plaintiff unquestionably suffers from cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that afflicts the cardiovascular system, ALJ Tyler determined that Plaintiff was able to perform a range of light work. (Doc. #8-1, at 52). Accordingly, Plaintiff was not entitled to supplemental security benefits.
Undeterred, Plaintiff again filed for disability benefits on November 24, 2010. ( Id. at 11). That application was also denied initially, upon reconsideration, and in a written opinion, this one authored by ALJ George L. Evans, III. ( Id. ) Evans's opinion, like that of the first ALJ, concluded that Plaintiff could perform light work despite his obvious physical limitations. ( Id. ) ALJ Evans, aware of the precedential effect of the prior ALJ's ruling, wrote that "[n]o evidence has been introduced to warrant reopening and reversing that decision." ( Id. )
What has never been questioned is that Plaintiff suffers from a serious illness. Cystic fibrosis has restricts Plaintiff's ability to work, and this fact is reflected in the RFC. ( See id. at 14). What is in dispute is whether Plaintiff's limitations are so severe that they prevent gainful employment. ALJ Evans concluded that Plaintiff could work, for two reasons. First, the record indicated that Plaintiff's condition, while serious, allowed Plaintiff to hold certain physically limited positions. Second, the Sixth Circuit's holding in Drummond v. Commissioner, 126 F.3d 37 (6th Cir. 1997) bound ALJ Evans to the prior ALJ's determination, unless ALJ Evans found a material change in circumstances. Concluding that no such change occurred, ALJ Evans rejected Plaintiff's claims for benefits.
After exhausting his administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed the instant action, and the matter is now ripe for review.
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©. Assuming the answer is yes, the ALJ then considers whether the applicant's ...