United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
EDWARD B. ATKINS, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, James Ray Manning, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to challenge the Defendant Commissioner's final decision denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). [Record No. 1]. 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. 15]. 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. 9] shall be granted, the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Record No. 11] shall be denied, and Judgment will be entered reversing the final decision of the Defendant Commissioner and remanding the action for further consideration.
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND & PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On December 14, 2010, the Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. [Tr. 177-188]. In these applications, the Plaintiff alleged disability since November 19, 2010. Id . In his Disability Report, Form SSA-3368, the Plaintiff claimed his work ability was limited due to rheumatoid arthritis in his hip, bone loss in right ankle and post traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"). [Tr. 227]. His claim was denied initially [Tr. 63-118], and on reconsideration [Tr. 121-127]. After denial of his claim, Plaintiff requested a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). [Tr. 187].
On July 17, 2012, a hearing was held before ALJ Ronald M. Kayser ("Kayser"). [Tr. 32-61]. The Plaintiff testified at the hearing, and was represented by Leah Hawkins. [Tr. 32-61]. The ALJ also heard testimony from vocational expert Joyce Forrest. [Tr. 32-61]. ALJ Kayser denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits in a written decision dated March 5, 2012. [Tr. 15-27]. In evaluating Plaintiff's claim, the ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation process to determine that he 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 his application for benefits. [Tr. 21]. Next, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: anxiety, depression, status post right foot fracture and hearing loss in the right ear. [Tr. 21]. 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. 21].
The fourth step of the analysis is to determine whether the Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") would allow him to perform the requirements of his 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. 25]. 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. 25]. 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. 27].
Following the ALJ's adverse decision, the Plaintiff properly exhausted his administrative remedies by appealing to the Social Security Appeals Council. [Tr. 8-9]. On May 8, 2013, the Council denied Manning's request for review. [Tr. 1-5]. On June 5, 2013, Plaintiff initiated the present action by filing his Complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. [Record No. 1]. In his Motion for Summary Judgment, the Plaintiff asserts two grounds for relief: (1) that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's conclusion that he could perform other work because the ALJ's formulation of the RFC and the hypothetical question posed to the vocational expert did not accurately portray his individual physical and mental impairment; and (2) that the ALJ failed to give adequate reasons for rejecting the opinion of Dr. David Atcher. [Record No. 9-1]. 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. 11]. Following briefing, this matter was referred to the undersigned upon consent of the parties for all proceedings. [Record No. 15].
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).
A. The ALJ's RFC finding was not supported by substantial evidence.
In his motion for summary judgment, the Plaintiff claims that the ALJ's RFC finding was not supported by substantial evidence because the hypothetical posed to the vocation expert was inaccurate. [Record No. 9]. To be considered disabled under the Social Security Act, a person must be "unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); see also Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 353 (6th Cir. 2001). Under 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B),
An individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
The Plaintiff has the ultimate burden of establishing the existence of a disability. Casey v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993). Upon a finding that the Plaintiff is unable to perform any of his past relevant work, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to establish that the Plaintiff has the ability to perform work that exists in ...