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Coleman v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

February 9, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.

This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Bruce Coleman and Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). [Record Nos. 15, 16] Coleman argues that the administrative law judge ("ALJ") assigned to his case erred in finding that Coleman is not entitled to Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act ("Act"). He seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision and an award of benefits or remand. [Record No. 15-1] However, the Commissioner asserts that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. [Record No. 16] For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Commissioner's motion and deny the relief requested by Coleman.


On November 2, 2009, Coleman protectively applied for DIB and SSI, alleging that his disability began in January, 2009. [Record No. 15-1, Administrative Transcript, "Tr., " at pp. 158-162, 163-164] As a result of a tumultuous childhood that included witnessing his father's death in a fire and his mother's subsequent suicide, Coleman claims to suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia. He has reported hearing voices and feeling paranoid. [Tr., p. 298]

Following the denial of his applications, Coleman requested and received an administrative hearing before ALJ Roger L. Reynolds. [Tr., pp. 6-23] The ALJ found that Coleman was not disabled under the Act. [Tr., p. 18] After exhausting his remedies unsuccessfully with the Appeals Council, Coleman filed this action. In a decision issued by United States District Judge Amul R. Thapar, the Court reversed the ALJ's denial and remanded the claim for further evaluation of the claimant's medical opinion evidence. [Tr., pp. 42-430] On remand, the case was agan heard by ALJ Reynolds, who denied Coleman's claims on January 27, 2014. [Tr., pp. 368-386] In relevant part, the ALJ found that Coleman is not disabled under §§ 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. [Tr., p. 380] Coleman did not file exceptions with the Appeals Council. Thus, the January 27, 2014 decision is the final agency action subject to judicial review.

Coleman was 38 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision and worked most recently as a school crossing guard. [Tr., p. 374] Coleman also indicated he had engaged in lay ministry in his church, preparing and delivering sermons, since his alleged onset date of disability. [ Id. ] He alleged a number of conditions that the ALJ found severe, including: borderline intellectual functioning, schizoaffective disorder versus major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol dependence in remission by history, insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, obesity, and hypertension. The ALJ found that Coleman also suffered from obstructive sleep apnea, but the condition was not a severe impairment. [ Id. ]

As evidence of his disabilities, Coleman provided his own testimony and reports from a number of doctors, including, inter alia: practitioner Sheila Mullins, treating doctor Craig Enlow, state examining doctor Harwell Smith, state agency physician Edward Stodola, treating doctor Stuart Larson, and consultative examiner Jennifer Fishkoff. Since Coleman's alleged onset date in January 2009, he has received treatment and medication for depression and auditory hallucinations, reporting that they are at a manageable whisper level and do not intrude on his daily life. [Tr., p. 679] The record suggests no change in his medications as of April 10, 2013, and a treatment note from November, 2013, recorded that all of Coleman's symptoms have been under control since the introduction of antipsychotics to his regimen. [Tr., p. 377]

After reviewing the record and considering the testimony presented during the administrative hearing, the ALJ concluded that Coleman had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium-level work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c), with the following modifications:

Coleman requires entry level work with simple one-two step procedures; no frequent changes in work routines; no requirement for detailed or complex problem solving, independent planning, or the setting of goals; and no fast-paced assembly lines or rigid production quotas.

[Tr., p. 375] Vocational Expert ("VE") Jackie B. Rogers testified that an individual with those RFC limitations should work in an object-oriented, non-public work environment with only occasional and casual contact with co-workers or supervisors and minimal contact with the general public. Based on the finding that Coleman retained the ability to perform medium-level work and relying on VE Rogers's testimony, the ALJ concluded that jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform, such as cleaner, [1] landscape worker, [2] and packager.[3] [Tr., p. 379] As a result, the ALJ determined that Coleman was not disabled under the Act. [Tr., p. 380]


Under the Act, a "disability" is defined as "the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity' because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment of at least one year's expected duration." Cruse v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 502 F.3d 532, 539 (6th Cir. 2007). A claimant's Social Security disability determination is made by an ALJ in accordance with "a five-step sequential evaluation process.'" Combs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 642 (6th Cir. 2006) (en banc) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)). If the claimant satisfies the first four steps of the process, the burden shifts to the Commissioner with respect to the fifth step. See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003).

A claimant must first demonstrate that he is not engaged in substantial gainful employment at the time of the disability application. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). Second, the claimant must show that he suffers from a severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). Third, if the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful employment and has a severe impairment which is expected to last for at least twelve months and which meets or equals a listed impairment, he will be considered disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). Fourth, if the Commissioner cannot make a determination of disability based on medical evaluations and current work activity and the claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner will then review the claimant's RFC and relevant past work to determine whether he can perform his past work. If he can, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f).

Under the fifth step of the analysis, if the claimant's impairment prevents him from doing past work, the Commissioner will consider his RFC, age, education, and past work experience to determine whether he can perform other work. If he cannot perform other work, the Commissioner will find the claimant disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g). The Commissioner has the burden of proof only on "the fifth step, proving that there is work available in the economy that the claimant can perform.'" White v. ...

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