United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
GREGORY F. VAN TATENHOVE, District Judge.
The plaintiff, Leroy Riddle, seeks judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). For the reasons stated herein, the Court will deny Riddle's Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 12], and grant that of the Commissioner [R. 13].
Riddle filed his application for DIB in July, 2010. [Tr. 161-164.] He alleges a disability beginning on February 15 of that year, due to a variety of problems, including herniated discs, high blood pressure and issues with his cholesterol. [Tr. 179-188.] His application was denied initially [Tr. 93-96] and upon reconsideration [Tr. 98-100]. A hearing was conducted before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Karen Jackson on September 15, 2011, where the ALJ heard testimony from Riddle, who was forty-five years old as of the alleged onset date. [Tr. 24-68.] Riddle has a high-school education and has past relevant work as a presser at a sewing factory, utility worker, injection-molding worker, furniture deliverer, and electric coil builder. [Tr. 17; 29-58; 59-62; 190.] Although the vocational expert testified that Riddle could no longer perform his past relevant work, she found that Riddle could perform other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, and the ALJ accepted that testimony. [Tr. 59-62, 18.] On October 28, 2011, ALJ Jackson issued a decision denying DIB to Riddle. [Tr. 12-19.]
In evaluating a claim of disability, an ALJ conducts a five-step analysis. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. First, if a claimant is performing a substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, if a claimant does not have any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limit his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, then he does not have a severe impairment and is not "disabled" as defined by the regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). Third, if a claimant's impairments meet or equal one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, he is "disabled." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). Before moving to the fourth step, the ALJ must use all the relevant evidence in the record to determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), which assesses an individual's ability to perform certain physical and mental work activities on a sustained basis despite any impairments experienced by the individual. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545. Fourth, the ALJ must determine whether the clamant has the RFC to perform the requirements of his past relevant work, and if a claimant's impairments do not prevent him from doing past relevant work, he is not "disabled." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). The plaintiff has the ultimate burden of proving compliance with the first four steps. Kyle v. Comm'r Of Soc. Sec., 609 F.3d 847, 855 (6th Cir. 2010). Fifth, if a claimant's impairments (considering his RFC, age, education, and past work) prevent him from doing other work that exists in the national economy, then he is "disabled." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).
In this case, ALJ Jackson determined, at Step 1, that Riddle had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since that alleged onset date. [Tr. 14.] At Step 2, the ALJ found that Riddle had the following severe impairments: "Neck pain secondary to mild disc bulging, C3-4 and C4-5 and low back pain secondary to herniated nucleus pulposus, L5-S1 and disc protrusion, L4-5." [ Id. ] At Step 3, the ALJ concluded that Riddle did not have an "impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526), " so the analysis continued to the next step. [Tr. 15.] At Step 4, the ALJ concluded that Riddle had a residual functional capacity (RFC) to "perform less than the Full Range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a)." [ Id. ] Jackson noted the following limitations:
He can life/carry ten pounds occasionally, less than ten pounds frequently; stand and/or walk a total of two hours in an eight hour workday; sit about six hours in an eight hour workday; no more than occasionally pushing/pulling with the upper and lower extremities; never climbing ladders, ropes and scaffolds' occasionally climbing ramps or stairs; frequently balancing; occasionally stopping, kneeling, crouching or crawling; must avoid exposure to full-body vibration and hazards such as dangerous machinery or unprotected heights.
[ Id. ] With these limitations in mind, the ALJ determined that Riddle was not capable of performing any of his past, relevant work. [Tr. 17.] Finally, at Step 5, the ALJ adopted the opinion of the vocational expert, concluding that because there were significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that Riddle could perform, Riddle was not disabled. [Tr. 18.] The Appeals Council found no reason for review on December 22, 2012 [Tr. 1-6] and Riddle now seeks judicial review in this Court.
This Court's review is limited to whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Wright v. Massanari, 321 F.3d 611, 614 (6th Cir. 2003); Shelman v. Heckler, 821 F.2d 316, 319-20 (6th Cir. 1987). "Substantial evidence" is "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." Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). The substantial evidence standard "presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which [administrative] decisionmakers can go either way, without interference by the courts." Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) ( en banc ) (quoting Baker v. Heckler, 730 F.2d 1147, 1150 (8th Cir. 1984)).
In determining the existence of substantial evidence, courts must examine the record as a whole. Cutlip, 25 F.3d at 286 (citing Kirk v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 535 (6th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 957 (1983)). However, a reviewing court may not conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or make credibility determinations. Ulman v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted); see also Bradley v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 862 F.2d 1224, 1228 (6th Cir. 1988). Rather, if the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it must be affirmed even if the reviewing court would decide the matter differently, and even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion. See Ulman, 693 F.3d at 714; Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007); Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999).
Riddle raises two issues on appeal to this Court, although he provides little to no argument to support either. First, he suggests that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence. [R. 12-1 at 2-4.] Second, Riddle submits that the ALJ failed to give proper weight to the opinion of his treating physician, Dr. James A. Chaney. [ Id. at 4.]
Riddle first suggests that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. [R. 12-1 at 2-4.] After providing the Court with form-language on the substantial evidence standard, Riddle addressed the case in a ...