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Browning v. Colvin

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

July 21, 2014

TONY BROWNING, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOSEPH M. HOOD, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon cross-motions for Summary Judgment [DE 10, 12] on Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner's denial of his application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. [Tr. 9-20].[1] 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, must conduct 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 & Human 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.

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 15, 2010 [Tr. 14]. Considering step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff possessed several "severe" impairments, including chronic neck, mid and low back pain with multiple levels of bulging discs, and bilateral shoulder degenerative joint disease with supraspinatus tendinopathy [Tr. 14]; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). During step three of the analysis, the ALJ concluded that none of the Plaintiff's impairments or combinations of his impairments met the severity listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 [Tr. 16].

At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had a residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined by 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b). However, Plaintiff was limited to tasks with no climbing of ropes, ladders or scaffolds; no more than occasional climbing of stairs and ramps, no work with hands over the head; and no exposure to temperature extremes, wetness, excess humidity or industrial hazards. Further, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was limited to entry level work with simple repetitive procedures and no frequent changes in work routines [Tr. 17]. While the ALJ considered a possible brain injury Plaintiff sustained when he was 26 years old, such an injury would have predated Plaintiff's successful work history and collegiate coursework [Tr. 18]. The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff had at least a high school education, could communicate in English, and at 51 years old was "closely approaching advanced age" on the alleged disability onset date under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1564, 416.963 [Tr. 18].

The ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any of his past relevant work because he was previously required to lift and carry more than 20 pounds [Tr. 18]. However, there were jobs in the national economy that existed in significant numbers that Plaintiff could currently perform [Tr. 18]. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act [Tr. 19].

On appeal, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in determining that he retained the RFC to perform light work, and that he is limited to performing no more than sedentary work. An RFC of sedentary work would result in a disabled classification under 20 ...


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