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Bennett v. Colvin

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

February 11, 2015

GREGORY W. BENNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.

This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Gregory W. Bennett ("Bennett") and Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"). [Record Nos. 10, 11] Bennett argues that the administrative law judge ("ALJ") assigned to his case erred by finding that he is not entitled to a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, or supplemental security income. [Record No. 10-1, pp. 5-8] The Commissioner asserts that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. [Record No. 11, pp. 3-7] For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Commissioner's motion and deny the relief requested by Bennett.

I.

On August 20, 2011, Bennett filed applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), and supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act. [ See Record No. 7-1, Administrative Transcript, "Tr., " p. 10.] He alleges a disability beginning May 20, 2009. Bennett, along with attorney Ronald Cox and vocational expert ("VE") JoAnn Bullard, appeared before ALJ Christopher Van Dyck on March 28, 2013, for an administrative hearing. [Tr., pp. 23-43] On April 8, 2013, the ALJ found that Bennett was not disabled under sections 216(i), 223(d) and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Act. [Tr., pp. 10-18] Bennett filed an appeal with the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. However, this appeal was denied on June 5, 2014. [Tr., pp. 1-4]

Bennett was 45 years old when his alleged disability began on May 20, 2009, and 49 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. He has a high school education and has previously worked as a semi-skilled material handler. [Tr., p. 16] Bennett asserts that he is unable to work due to back injuries, depression, and a nervous condition. [Tr., p. 238] After considering the testimony presented at the administrative hearing and reviewing the record, the ALJ concluded that Bennett suffers from the severe impairment of degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine. [Tr., p. 13-14] Despite this impairment, the ALJ determined that the claimant maintained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work, subject to the following limitations: "[Bennett] can perform no more than frequent climbing of ropes, ladders and scaffolds. The claimant can perform no more than frequent stooping, crouching or crawling, and no more than occasional kneeling." [Tr., p. 14]

After considering Bennett's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ concluded that there were a significant number of jobs in the national economy that he could perform, including hand packager, industrial cleaner, and store laborer. [Tr., p. 17] Thus, the ALJ concluded that Bennett was not disabled from May 20, 2009, through the date of the administrative decision. [Tr., p. 18]

II.

Under the Social Security 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. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 312 F.Appx. 779, 785 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th Cir. 1999)).

Judicial review of the denial of a claim for Social Security benefits is limited to determining whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007). The substantial-evidence standard presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which decision makers can go either way, without interference from the court. McClanahan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as sufficient to support the conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007).

If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed even if the Court would decide the case differently and even if the claimant's position is also supported by substantial evidence. Smith v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 482 F.3d 873, 876 (6th Cir. 2007); Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007); Longworth v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005); Casey v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993). In other words, the Commissioner's findings are conclusive if they are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

III.

Bennett asserts that ALJ Van Dyck erred in two ways. First, he argues that the ALJ erred in considering the opinion of consultative examiner Dr. Paul von Herrmann. Second, he contends that the question posed to the ...


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