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Shepherd v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

July 7, 2014

MICHAEL SHEPHERD, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.

This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Michael Shepherd ("Shepherd" or "the Claimant") and Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"). [Record Nos. 17, 18] Shepherd argues that the administrative law judge ("ALJ") assigned to his case erred in finding that he is not entitled to a period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"), and Supplemental Security Insurance ("SSI") under the Social Security Act ("Act"). He seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and remand for an award of benefits. The Commissioner asserts 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 requested by Shepherd.

I.

On April 20, 2011, Shepherd applied for a period of disability and DIB under Title II of the Act, and SSI under Title XVI of the Act. [See Administrative Transcript, "Tr., " at pp. 176-188.] He alleged a disability beginning May 7, 2009. Shepherd' applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr., pp. 113-116, 124-126] Shepherd, along with his attorney Leroy Lewis and vocational expert ("VE") Joyce Forrest, appeared before ALJ Greg Holsclaw on July 12, 2012, for an administrative hearing. [Tr., 23-66] In a decision dated August 9, 2012, ALJ Holsclaw found that Shepherd was not disabled under sections 216(i), 223(d), or 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Act. [Tr., pp. 8-18]

Shepherd was forty-two years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. [Tr., p. 28] He has an eighth grade education with no specialized training. [Tr., pp. 28-29.] Shepherd previously worked as a laborer in a coal mine performing various duties, and as a security guard and surveillance monitor. [Tr., pp. 29-35] His alleged disability stems from chest pain, heart problems, diabetes, a back injury and hand cramps. [Tr., pp. 218, 226] Shepherd was laid-off from his employment with James River Coal Company in approximately May 2009 and has not worked since that time.[1] [Tr., p. 35]

After reviewing the record and the testimony presented during the administrative hearing, the ALJ concluded that Shepherd suffers from a combination of severe impairments, including: "sclerosis of the spine and bulging discs with low back pain, neck pain, and radiculopathy; diabetes mellitus; [a] history of coronary artery disease and a heart attack with stent placement." [Tr., p. 10] Notwithstanding these impairments, ALJ Holsclaw found that Shepherd retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a reduced range of light work. Specifically, the ALJ concluded that Shepherd retained the capacity to perform the following job-related activities, but subject to the listed limitations:

lift or carry up to 20 pounds occasionally, and 10 pounds frequently. He can stand or walk up to four hours in an eight-hour workday, in intervals up to 40 minutes. He can sit up to six hours in an eight-hour workday, in intervals up to 60 minutes. He can perform no more than frequent pushing or pulling with the upper and lower extremities, up to the exertional lifting or carrying limits. He can balance, stoop or climb ramps or stairs occasionally, but he cannot kneel, crouch, crawl, or climb ladders, or scaffolds. He can perform no overhead reaching bilaterally. He can perform no more than frequent fine fingering or gross manipulation bilaterally. He cannot perform work in extreme heat or extreme cold. He cannot perform work around dangerous, moving machinery or at unprotected heights. He can perform no more than simple, routine work because of issues of concentration due to pain.

[Tr., p. 13]

Based on the testimony presented during the administrative hearing together with the medical evidence and consultative examiner's opinions, the ALJ found that Shepherd could perform past relevant work. [Tr., p. 16] Additionally, based on the testimony of VE Forrest, and after considering Shepherd's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ also determined that Shepherd could perform other jobs that exist in the national economy, such as inspector/sorter, hand packer, and order clerk. [Tr., pp. 16-17] As a result of these findings, ALJ Holsclaw concluded that Shepherd is not disabled. Thus, Shepherd was denied a period of disability, DIB, and SSI. [Tr., p. 18]

II.

Under the Social Security 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).

A claimant must first demonstrate that he is not engaged in substantial gainful employment at the time of the disability application. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). Second, the claimant must show that he suffers from a severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(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), 416.920(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), 416.920(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), 416.920(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.Appx. 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. ...


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