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Holbrook v. Colvin

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

June 27, 2014

JAMES MICHAEL HOLBROOK, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM, OPINION, & ORDER

KAREN K. CALDWELL, District Judge.

Plaintiff James Michael Holbrook brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI") benefits. The Court, having reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner's decision, as it is supported by substantial evidence.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Holbrook filed his claim for benefits on September 20, 2010, alleging an onset date of September 24, 2007. (AR 23) His claim was initially denied on December 29, 2010, and again on February 15, 2011. (AR 23). Holbrook then filed a written request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (AR 23). After the hearing, on January 23, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (AR 23).

At the time of the alleged onset of disability, Holbrook was thirty-one years old. (AR 57). ALJ has a high school education, and previously worked as a carpenter and trucker. (AR 45-46). Holbrook describes having pain, predominantly in his neck, with numbness on one hand and in his toes; he also describes pain in his lower back and right knee. (AR 46-50). Holbrook further testified that he does not sleep well and feels depressed. (AR 50).

In determining whether a claimant has a compensable disability under the Social Security Act (the "Act"), the regulations provide a five-step sequential process which the ALJ must follow. 20 C.F.R. § 404. 1520(a)-(e); see Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 529 (6th Cir. 1997). The five steps, in summary, are as follows:

(1) If the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled.
(2) If the claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity, his impairment must be severe before he can be found disabled.
(3) If the claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity and is suffering from a severe impairment that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and his impairment meets or equals a listed impairment, the claimant is presumed disabled without further inquiry.
(4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him from doing past relevant work, he is not disabled.
(5) Even if the claimant's impairment does prevent him from doing him past relevant work, if other work exists in the national economy that accommodates his residual functional capacity and vocational factors (age, education, skills, etc.), he is not disabled.

Id. The burden of proof is on the claimant throughout the first four steps of the process to prove that he is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146, n. 5 (1987). If the ALJ reaches the fifth step without finding that the claimant is not disabled, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner to consider the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience to determine if he could perform other work. If not, he would be deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404. 1520(f). Importantly, the Commissioner only has the burden of proof on "the fifth step, proving that there is work available in the economy that the claimant can perform." Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th Cir. 1999).

In this case, the ALJ began his analysis at step one by determining that the claimant has not engaged in gainful activity since September 24, 2007. (AR 25). At step two, the ALJ determined that Holbrook suffers from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, osteoarthritis of the left acromioclavicular joint, left rotator cuff syndrome, generalized anxiety disorder, depression and pain disorder. (AR 25). In the third step, the ALJ found that the claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. (AR 26).

At step four, the ALJ found that based on the medically determinable evidence and the entire record, Holbrook has the residual functional capacity to perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404. 1567(b). "He can push/pull with the upper extremities up to the weight limits of light work. He must avoid climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds. He can occasionally climb ramps/stairs and crawl" He can occasionally reach overhead with the left upper extremity and must avoid concentrated exposure to excessive vibration and hazards. He can understand simple instructions and can sustain attention for simple tasks for extended periods of two-hour segments in an eight hour day with only occasional concentration problems. He ...


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