United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky
MICHAEL T. JOHNS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DAVID L. BUNNING, District Judge.
Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Court, having reviewed the record and the parties' dispositive motions, will affirm the Commissioner's decision, as it is supported by substantial evidence.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff Michael Johns filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on March 2, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of October 1, 2007. (Tr. 176-77, 224). At the time of filing, Plaintiff was 42 years old with a tenth grade education, and had previously worked as a package sorter and construction worker. (Tr. 176, 33). Plaintiff alleges he is unable to work due to injuries in both shoulders, back, and neck, numbness in his left hand, high blood pressure, and bullets lodged in his scapula and sternum. (Tr. 228).
Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and again on reconsideration (Tr. 70-71). At Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was conducted on June 25, 2012 before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Roger L. Reynolds. (Tr. 32-54). On July 5, 2012, ALJ Reynolds ruled that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act and therefore not entitled to SSI or DIB. (Tr. 24). The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 9, 2013. (Tr. 1).
The present action was filed on August 8, 2013 (Doc. # 1). This matter has culminated in cross-motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for adjudication. (Docs. # 9, 12).
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 October 1, 2007, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 16). At Step 2, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, status post discectomy and fusion surgeries of the C5/C6 and C6/7 levels of the cervical spine and the L5/S1 level of the lumbar spine; bilateral shoulder degenerative joint disease, status post left shoulder acromioclavicular arthroscopic surgery; and status post gunshot wounds to the left hand and right shoulder with retained bullet fragments. (Tr. 16-17) However, at Step 3 the ALJ concluded that none of these impairments or combination of impairments meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 18).
At Step 4, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a limited range of light and sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) with the following limitations: no climbing ropes, ladders or scaffolds; no work with hands over the head; no exposure to concentrated vibration, temperature extremes or industrial hazards; only occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching or crawling; and no work requiring frequent turning of the head. (Tr. 20)
At Step 5, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was 39 years old on the alleged onset date, which is defined as a younger individual. (Tr. 22). The ALJ also found Plaintiff to have a limited education with the ability to communicate in English. ( Id. ). Relying on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE) and considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience and RFC, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. (Tr. 23). ALJ Reynolds thus concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from the alleged onset date through the date of his decision. (Tr. 23).
Plaintiff identifies four issues on appeal. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's RFC assessment is not supported by substantial evidence. Second, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ violated 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(3) by failing to have him reviewed by a consultative examiner. Third, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to give adequate reasons for discounting the opinions of consultative examiners, Dr. James Owen and Dr. David Jackson, who each found that Plaintiff's impairments prevented him from working. Finally, ...