United States District Court, Eastern District of Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Edward B. Atkins United States Magistrate Judge
Plaintiff, Marie Lynn Kilgore, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to challenge the Defendant Commissioner’s final decision denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits. [Record No. 1]. 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. 12]. 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. 15] shall be denied, the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [Record No. 16] shall be granted, and Judgment shall be entered affirming the final decision of the Commissioner.
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND & PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On November 22, 2010, the Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits. [Tr. 144-45]. In this application, the Plaintiff alleged disability since November 13, 2010. Id. In her Disability Report, Form SSA-3368, the Plaintiff claimed her work ability was limited due to right knee, back and neck pain as well as depression. [Tr. 172]. Her claim was denied initially [Tr. 55-64], and again on reconsideration [Tr. 65-82]. After denial of her claim, Plaintiff requested a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). [Tr. 108-109].
On August 23, 2012, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Toby Buel. [Tr. 27-54]. The Plaintiff testified at the hearing, and was represented by William Arnett. [Tr. 27-54]. The ALJ also heard testimony from vocational expert Leah Salyers. [Tr. 27-54]. ALJ Buel denied Plaintiff’s claim for benefits in a written decision dated October 29, 2012. [Tr. 10]. In evaluating Plaintiff’s claim, the ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation process pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; 416.920 to determine that she was not disabled.
At the first step, the ALJ considered the Plaintiff’s work activity and found that the Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the date of her application for benefits. [Tr. 15]. At the second step the ALJ considered the severity of the Plaintiff’s medical impairments and found that the Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine and degenerative joint disease of the right knee. [Tr. 15]. At step three, the ALJ examined whether the Plaintiff’s impairments met one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 and found that the Plaintiff’s medically determinable impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments. [Tr. 16].
Before proceeding to the fourth step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff’s impairments left her with the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work. Light work is defined as work that involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. A job in this category can involve a good deal of walking or standing or it may involve sitting most of the time with some pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b). In addition to being able to perform light work the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff can frequently climb ramps or stairs and only occasionally kneel, stoop, crouch, crawl, and climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. [Tr. 16].
The fourth step of the analysis is to determine whether the Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity would allow her to perform the requirements of her past relevant work. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1565. Past relevant work is defined as work that a person has done within the past 15 years, that was substantial gainful activity, and that lasted long enough for a person to learn to do it. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(b)(1). The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff was capable of performing relevant past work as a product packager. [Tr. 18]. Because the ALJ found the Plaintiff had the capacity to do relevant past work he did not proceed to the fifth step of determining whether the claimant is able to do any other work considering her residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience. 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(f). [Tr. 28].
Following the adverse decision of the ALJ, the Plaintiff properly exhausted her administrative remedies by appealing to the Social Security Appeals Council. [Tr. 8-9]. On appeal, the Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ’s decision. [Tr. 1-4]. On January 24, 2014, the Plaintiff initiated the present action by filing her Complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. [Record No. 1]. In her 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. 15-1]. 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. 16]. 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) and Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. [Record No. 12].
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). “The substantial evidence standard presupposes that there is a ‘zone of choice’ within which the [Commissioner] may proceed without interference from the courts.” Felisky v. Bowen, 35 F.3d 1027, 1035 (6th Cir.1994) (citations omitted).
The Plaintiff presents four arguments on appeal, which can be ...