United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
EDWARD B. ATKINS, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Edith Spradlin, 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). [Record No. 11]. Upon consent of the parties, this matter has been referred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of final judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. [Record No. 16]. 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. 11] shall be denied, the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Record No. 12] shall be granted, and Judgment will be entered affirming the Commissioner's final decision.
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND & PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The Plaintiff filed an application on June 26, 2010 seeking Supplemental Security Income. [Tr. 17]. In this application, the Plaintiff alleged disability since June 8, 2010. Id . In her Disability Report, Form SSA-3368, the Plaintiff claimed her work ability was limited due to her "back, legs, migraines and glaucoma." [Tr. 145]. Her claim was denied initially [Tr. 65-70], and on reconsideration [Tr. 72-76]. After denial of her claim, Plaintiff requested a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). [Tr. 78-80].
On April 24, 2012, a hearing was held before ALJ Charles Paul Andrus ("ALJ Andrus"). [Tr. 17-28]. The Plaintiff testified at the hearing, and was represented by John W. Kirk. [Tr. 17-28]. The ALJ also heard testimony from vocational expert Gina K. Baldwin. [Tr. 17-28]. ALJ Andrus denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits in a written decision dated June 26, 2012. [Tr. 28]. In evaluating Plaintiff's claim, the ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation process to determine that she was not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; 416.920. At the first step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the date of her application for benefits. [Tr. 19]. Next, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: chronic lumbar strain, obesity, depression and anxiety. [Tr. 19]. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. [Tr. 20].
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 as defined by the Regulations. [Tr. 22]. Specifically, the ALJ described Plaintiff's exertional and non-exertional limitations as follows:
The claimant can understand simple instructions; can concentrate on simple work given normal breaks every two hours; can function in object-focused settings requiring little contact with others; and can adapt to routine changes. She can do no frequent over head work. She cannot climb hills or walk on uneven terrain. She cannot climb ladders or work at unprotected heights or [sic] round dangerous machinery. She can occasionally climb stairs, bend, stoop, crouch, squat, kneel, or crawl. She cannot perform work that would subject her body to concentrated jars, jolts, or vibration or work in temperature or humidity extremes. She needs the option to sit or stand at one-half to one-hour intervals.
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. The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1565, 416.965. [Tr. 26]. At the fifth and final step, relying on the testimony of the Vocational Expert ("VE") and taking into consideration Plaintiff's age, educational background, past relevant work experience, and residual functional capacity, the ALJ must determine whether the Plaintiff is capable of making a successful adjustment to work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.159(a); 416.969(a). Based on the testimony of the Vocational Expert, the ALJ held that, "[c]onsidering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, the claimant is capable of making a successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy...." [Tr. 26]. 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(g) and 416.920(g). [Tr. 26].
Following the ALJ's adverse decision, the Plaintiff properly exhausted her administrative remedies by appealing to the Social Security Appeals Council. [Tr. 6-8]. On May 29, 2013, the Council denied Spradlin's request for review. [Tr. 6-8]. On July 11, 2013, 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 asserts two grounds for relief: (1) that the ALJ erred when finding that the Plaintiff was not mentally disabled under Listing 12.05; and (2) that the RFC provided by her treating physician was not properly weighed. [Record No. 11-1]. The Commissioner responds that the ALJ's decision should be affirmed, as he applied the proper standards and supported his decision with substantial evidence. [Record No. 12]. Following briefing, this matter was referred to the undersigned, upon consent of the parties for all proceedings. [Record No. 16].
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 ...