United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JOSEPH M. HOOD, Senior District Judge.
This matter is before the Court upon cross-motions for Summary Judgment [D.E. 15, 16] on Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner's denial of his application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. [Tr. 13-22]. The Court, having reviewed the record and being otherwise sufficiently advised, will deny Plaintiff's motion and grant Defendant's motion.
I. Overview of the Process and the Instant Matter
The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), in determining disability, conducts a five-step analysis:
1. An individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity is not disabled, regardless of the claimant's medical condition.
2. An individual who is working but does not have a "severe" impairment which significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities is not disabled.
3. If an individual is not working and has a severe impairment which "meets the duration requirement and is listed in appendix 1 or is equal to a listed impairment(s)", then he is disabled regardless of other factors.
4. If a decision cannot be reached based on current work activity and medical facts alone, and the claimant has a severe impairment, then the Secretary reviews the claimant's residual functional capacity and the physical and mental demands of the claimant's previous work. If the claimant is able to continue to do this previous work, then he is not disabled.
5. If the claimant cannot do any work he did in the past because of a severe impairment, then the Secretary considers his residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience to see if he can do other work. If he cannot, the claimant is disabled.
Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Hum. Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (1982)). "The burden of proof is on the claimant throughout the first four steps of this process to prove that he is disabled." Id. "If the analysis reaches the fifth step without a finding that the claimant is not disabled, the burden transfers to the Secretary." Id.
In the instant matter, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the relevant time period under step one. [Tr. 15]. Under step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, cervical pain with radiation into the left shoulder, and affective mood disorder were "severe" as defined by the agency's regulations. [Tr. 15]; 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). The ALJ further found that Plaintiff's medically determinable impairment of hypertension was a "non-severe" impairment. [Tr. 15-16].
During step three of the analysis, the ALJ considered all of Plaintiff's impairments and decided that none of them met the criteria listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. [Tr. 16-18]. After further review of the record, the ALJ concluded at step four that Plaintiff had a residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work except that Plaintiff was limited to frequent climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, frequent stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling, and occasional reaching in all directions, including overhead, with the upper, left extremity. [Tr. 18]. The ALJ found that Plaintiff was further limited in that he could occasionally lift and carry 50 pounds, frequently lift and carry 25 pounds, stand and walk a total six hours in an eight hour work day, sit a total of six hours in an eight hour work day, and that Plaintiff should avoid concentrated exposure to full body vibration and hazards, such as unprotected heights or dangerous machinery. [Tr. 18]. The ALJ imposed further mental limitations on Plaintiff in that he could understand, remember, and carry out simple and some detailed instructions, he could concentrate and persist for two hour segments throughout a typical eight hour work day. [Tr. 18]. Further, Plaintiff could interact with co-workers and supervisors as needed, with the public only occasionally, and Plaintiff could adapt to reasonable work changes. [Tr. 18].
The ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any of his past relevant work. [Tr. 21]. However, there were jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. [Tr. 21-22]. Thus, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security Act. [Tr. 22].
In this appeal, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by relying on a medical opinion the ALJ assessed to have little weight, that the ALJ erred by giving controlling weight to the opinions of non-examining state agency physicians, and that the ALJ erred by not complying with the treating physician rule.
II. Standard of Review
In reviewing the ALJ's decision to deny disability benefits, the Court may "not try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of credibility." Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Hum. Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). Instead, judicial review of the ALJ's decision is limited to an inquiry into whether the ALJ's findings were supported by substantial evidence, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 353 (6th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted), and whether the ALJ employed the proper legal standards in reaching her conclusion. See Landsaw v. Sec'y of Health & Hum. Servs., 803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th Cir. 1986). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla of ...