United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
EDWARD B. ATKINS, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Jerry Dean Kidd, brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to deny his application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. [R. 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. [R. 13]. For the reasons set forth herein, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 14] shall be denied, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 15] shall be granted, and Judgment shall be entered affirming the final decision of the Commissioner.
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND & PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff was born in 1963. [Tr. at 34]. He has a high school education and last worked as a tractor-trailer driver. [Tr. at 34]. In his Disability Report, Form SSA-3368, Plaintiff claimed his work ability was limited due to "Wegner's Granlumatosis." [Tr. at 173]. Thus, Plaintiff filed for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on December 29, 2010. [Tr. at 182]. The Social Security Administration denied his claims initially [Tr. at 57-63] and upon reconsideration [Tr. at 66-73]. After denial of his claims, he requested a hearing in front of an ALJ. [Tr. at 85-86]. Subsequently, Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing held on May 23, 2012 before ALJ Andrew J. Chwalibog. [R. 1-2 at 4]. At the hearing, Plaintiff was represented by counsel, William Arnett. [R. 1-2 at 4]. During the hearing, the ALJ also heard testimony from Leah Salyers, a vocational expert. [R. 1-2 at 4]. A second hearing was held on August 20, 2012 at which time further testimony was elicited from Plaintiff and Dwight McMillion, another vocational expert. [R. 1-2 at 4].
The ALJ ruled against Plaintiff in a written decision dated December 12, 2012. [R. 1-2]. In his decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of "Wegner's Granulomatosis; low back and joint pain syndrome; and obesity (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(c))." [R. 1-2 at 6]. Despite these conditions, the ALJ determined that "[t]he claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526)." [R. 1-2 at 9]. Continuing with his evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a reduced range of light work, and he set forth his specific limitations in his opinion. [R. 1-2 at 10]. Further, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff was unable to perform past relevant work. [R. 1-2 at 14]. However, the ALJ determined that "there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the [Plaintiff] can perform." [R. 1-2 at 14]. Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a "disability" as defined by the Social Security Act. [R. 1-2 at 15]. Following the adverse decision of the ALJ, Plaintiff properly exhausted his administrative remedies by appealing to the Social Security Appeals Council, which denied his request for review. [Tr. at 1-5].
On February 24, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. [R. 1]. In his Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 15], Plaintiff sets forth multiple arguments for reversal of the ALJ's opinion. Defendant responds that the ALJ's opinion should be affirmed, as it is supported by substantial evidence. [R. 16]. The case is now ripe for review.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A reviewing court must uphold the findings of the ALJ if they are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)(2006); see also Kirk v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 535 (6th Cir. 1981). The Sixth Circuit has held that "substantial evidence exists when a reasonable mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to support a conclusion." Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387 (6th Cir. 2004) (internal citations and quotation marks 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).
The limited nature of substantial evidence review prevents the reviewing court from substituting its judgment for that of the ALJ. Rather, so long as substantial evidence exists, the reviewing court should affirm the ALJ's decision "even if there is substantial evidence in the record that would have supported an opposite conclusion." Longworth v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Sixth Circuit precedent suggests that a finding of "no substantial evidence" would be appropriate in situations where the ALJ ignores uncontested, compelling evidence for one side, makes no express findings on witness credibility and makes a ruling based on facts with "little if any evidentiary value." Noe v. Weinberger, 512 F.2d 588 (6th Cir. 1975); see also Glass v. Sec'y of Health, Educ. & Welfare, 517 F.2d 224 (6th Cir. 1975). Otherwise, if there is substantial evidence to support the ALJ's decision, "it must be affirmed even if the reviewing court would decide the matter differently." Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994).
The Commissioner's regulations provide a sequential, five-step process for the evaluation of disabilities. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). First, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant is currently engaging in substantial gainful activity; if so, she is not disabled. Id . § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). Second, if claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner must determine whether she has a severe impairment; if not, she is not disabled. Id . § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). Third, if claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner must compare it to those in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; if the severe impairment meets or equals a listed impairment, claimant is presumed disabled. Id . § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). Fourth, if claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, the Commissioner must determine whether claimant's impairment prevents her from doing past relevant work; if not, she is not disabled. Id . § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). Fifth, if claimant's impairment prevents her from doing past relevant work, the Commissioner must determine whether other work exists in the national economy that accommodates her RFC and vocational factors (age, education, skills etc.); if so, she is not disabled. Id . § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).
Plaintiff argues that in assessing his RFC for use in steps four and five, the ALJ failed to properly weigh three medical opinions of record. [R. 15-1 at 9-13]. More specifically, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly adopted Dr. Stephen Nutter's opinion and erroneously rejected the opinion of his treating source, Dr. James Frederick, and a similar opinion from a one-time medical examiner, Dr. James Owen. As discussed below, ...