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Caldwell v. Colvin

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

July 29, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


DAVID L. BUNNING, District Judge.

Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g) to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Court, having reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner's decision, finding that Plaintiff's lone claim of error is without merit.


Plaintiff Glen Caldwell filed an application for disability insurance benefits on July 15, 2009, alleging he became disabled on March 4, 2009. (Tr. 78-86, 205-209). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and again on reconsideration. (Tr. 99-106). At Plaintiff's request, an Administrative Law Judge held a hearing on December 7, 2010, and thereafter issued an unfavorable decision on December 28, 2010. (Tr. 78-86).

The Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision on September 30, 2011, and remanded the claim for resolution of two issues. (Tr. 93-95). First, the ALJ was directed to consider a functional capacity assessment from Shannon Combs, ARNP and an unidentifiable Clinical Psychologist dated May 19, 2011, which was not a part of the record before the ALJ. Second, the ALJ was instructed to address Plaintiff's mother-in-law's statements.[1]

The ALJ held a second hearing on March 8, 2012, and issued another unfavorable decision. (Tr. 14-28). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for a rehearing, finding no reason under the Administration's rules to review the decision. (Tr. 1). The ALJ's decision, therefore, became the final decision of the Commissioner. This appeal followed and has culminated in cross-motions for summary judgment. (Docs. # 12, 15).


A. Overview of the Process

Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is restricted to determining whether it is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards. See Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). "Substantial evidence" is defined as "more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. Courts are not to conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or make credibility determinations. See id. Rather, we are to affirm the Commissioner's decision, provided it is supported by substantial evidence, even if we might have decided the case differently. See Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999).

The ALJ, in determining disability, conducts a five-step analysis. Step 1 considers whether the claimant is still performing substantial gainful activity; Step 2, whether any of the claimant's impairments are "severe"; Step 3, whether the impairments meet or equal a listing in the Listing of Impairments; Step 4, whether the claimant can still perform his past relevant work; and Step 5, whether significant numbers of other jobs exist in the national economy which the claimant can perform. As to the last step, the burden of proof shifts from the claimant to the Commissioner. See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003); Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).

B. The ALJ's Determination

At Step 1, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (Tr. 17). At Step 2, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: loss of vision in left eye; headaches; chronic back pain; cognitive disorder not otherwise specified; and adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood. ( Id. ). However, at Step 3, the ALJ concluded that none of these impairments or combination of impairments meet or medically equal the severity of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 17-19).

At Step 4, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work with certain additional limitations. Plaintiff was restricted as follows:

[He] can lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. He can stand/walk 6 hours during an 8-hour workday, and sit 6 hours during an 8hour workday. Due to reduced depth perception from left eye blindness, the claimant should never be expected to climb ladders, rope or scaffolds. He may occasionally climb ramps or stairs. He may stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl no more often than frequently. The claimant cannot perform work activities requiring good depth perception, and he should avoid concentrated exposure to full body vibration and all hazards such as unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. The claimant also suffers from mental impairments, but he would be able to: understand, remember, and carry out simple repetitive work instructions; sustain attention and concentration for simple work tasks for extended periods ...

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