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Hardin v. Colvin

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

February 5, 2015

WILLIAM HARDIN, PLAINTIFF
v.
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. ยง 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

On September 27, 2006, Plaintiff William Hardin filed an application for a Period of Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), alleging an onset date of December 17, 2002. (TR 43, 123). The date last insured (DLI) was March 31, 2008. (TR 382). Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and again on reconsideration. (TR 379). After a June 9, 2008 hearing, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Andrew J. Chwalibog ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. (TR 434). The Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff's request for review. (TR 446). On August 11, 2009, United States Senior Judge G. Wix Unthank reversed and remanded for further fact finding. (TR 449). On October 15, 2010, after a second hearing, ALJ Chwalibog again ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. (TR 380). The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on September 6, 2013. (TR 369).

The present action was filed on November 1, 2013. (Doc. # 1). This matter has culminated in cross-motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for adjudication. (Docs. # 9, 10).

II. DISCUSSION

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 during the period from his alleged onset date through the DLI. (TR 382). At Step 2, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: low back and neck pain due to mild degenerative disc disease. Id. Further, he determined that Plaintiff had nonsevere shoulder problems, mental impairments, mild carpal tunnel syndrome, and cardiac condition. Id. At Step 3, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (TR 388).

At Step 4, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b), with the following limitations: limit standing/walking to six hours out of an eight-hour workday and sitting to six hours out of an eight-hour workday; no repetitive push/pull activities; occasionally climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; no repetitive reaching overhead; avoid work at heights and hazzards; no commercial driving. (TR 388-89). Based upon the Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ concluded that he was unable to perform any past relevant work. (TR 394).

At Step 5, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's could perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. Id. He relied on the Vocational Expert's (VE) testimony that an individual with Plaintiff's profile and RFC could work as a hand packer (7, 500 regional/850, 000 national jobs), a grader/sorter (3, 000 regional/650, 000 national jobs), an inspector (3, 000 regional/650, 000 national jobs), and as a system surveillance monitor (4, 000 regional/500, 000 national jobs). (TR 395). ALJ Chwalibog thus concluded that Plaintiff was not under a ...


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