United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
EDWARD B. ATKINS, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Ronald Eugene Howard, Jr., brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to challenge the Defendant Commissioner's final decision denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits. [Record No. 13]. This matter has been referred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of a final judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). [Record No. 15]. Now ripe for decision on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, and for the reasons set forth herein, the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [Record No. 13] shall be denied, the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Record No. 14] shall be granted, and Judgment shall be entered affirming the final decision of the Commissioner.
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND & PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On November 04, 2010, the Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits. [Tr. 181-194]. In this application, the Plaintiff alleged disability since March 10, 2010. Id . In his Disability Report, Form SSA-3368, the Plaintiff claimed his work ability was limited due to bronchiolits [sic.] obliterans organizing pneumonia, interstitial lung disease and depression. [Tr. 228-230]. His claim was denied initially [Tr. 61-82], and on reconsideration [Tr. 87-112]. After denial of his claim, Plaintiff requested a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). [Tr. 127-128].
On September 24, 2012, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Charlie Paul Andrus. [Tr. 29-50]. The Plaintiff testified at the hearing, and was represented by Lucinda Jean Cornett. [Tr. 29-50]. The ALJ also heard testimony from vocational expert Gina Baldwin. [Tr. 45-49]. ALJ Andrus denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits in a written decision dated October 03, 2012. [Tr. 11-28]. In evaluating Plaintiff's claim, the ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation process to determine that he was not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; 416.920. At the first step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the date of his application for benefits. [Tr. 16]. Next, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, and anxiety disorder. [Tr. 16]. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. [Tr. 16-7].
Before proceeding to the fourth step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments left him with the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform the full range of medium work as defined by the Regulations. [Tr. 17-22]. Specifically, with respect to his physical limitations, the ALJ described Plaintiff's residual functional capacity as follows:
Claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; cannot work in temperature or humidity extremes; must avoid heights and open dangerous machinery; must avoid excessive dust and fumes; limited to simple and routine work, but can concentrate in an object-focused setting; can relate to supervisors and coworkers, but cannot have any public contact; and can handle routine changes.
The fourth step of the analysis is to determine whether the Plaintiff's residual functional capacity would allow him to perform the requirements of his past relevant work. The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work, See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1565, 416.965. [Tr. 21]. At the fifth and final step, relying on the testimony of the Vocational Expert ("VE") and taking into consideration Plaintiff's age, educational background, past relevant work experience, and residual functional capacity, the ALJ must determine whether the Plaintiff is capable of making a successful adjustment to work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.159(a); 416.969(a). Based on the testimony of the Vocational Expert, the ALJ held that, "[c]onsidering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, the claimant is capable of making a successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy...." [Tr. 24]. Based on these findings, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff was not under a "disability" as defined by the Social Security Act, See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g). [Tr. 24].
Following the adverse decision of the ALJ, the Plaintiff properly exhausted his administrative remedies by appealing to the Social Security Appeals Council. [Tr. 7-10]. On appeal, the Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's decision. [Tr. 1-6]. On December 08, 2013, Plaintiff initiated the present action by filing his Complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. [Record No. 2]. In his Motion for Summary Judgment, the Plaintiff argues for the reversal of the ALJ's decision based on the Commissioner's failure to support his findings with substantial evidence as required by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). [Record No. 19-1]. The Commissioner responds that the ALJ's decision should be affirmed, as it was reached applying the proper standards and was supported by substantial evidence. [Record No. 14]. Following briefing, this matter, with the parties' consent, was referred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of a final judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). [Record No. 15].
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a reviewing court "must affirm the Commissioner's conclusions absent a determination that the Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standard or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record." Longworth v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. , 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). The scope of judicial review is limited to the record itself, and the reviewing court "may not try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in evidence, nor decide questions of credibility." Hogg v. Sullivan , 987 F.2d 328, 331 (6th Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). The Sixth Circuit has held that "substantial evidence exists when a reasonable mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to support a conclusion." Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. , 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). The limited nature of substantial evidence review prevents the reviewing court from substituting its judgment for that of the ALJ. Rather, so long as substantial evidence exists, the reviewing court should affirm the ALJ's decision "even if there is substantial evidence in the record that would have supported an opposite conclusion." Longworth , 402 F.3d at 595 (citations omitted). Substantial evidence is "more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as ...