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Muncy v. Colvin

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

February 24, 2015

JAMES WILSON MUNCY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

GREGORY F. VAN TATENHOVE, District Judge.

Plaintiff James Wilson Muncy brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying Muncy's application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI). The Court, having reviewed the record and for the reasons set forth herein, will deny Muncy's Motion for Summary Judgment, [R. 12], and grant that of the Commissioner, [R. 13].

I

Muncy filed applications for DIB and SSI on July 29, 2010. [Transcript (Tr.) 83-86]. He alleges a disability beginning on January 1, 2009, due to lower back and neck pain, COPD and bronchitis, and depression and anxiety. [Tr. 11]. Muncy's applications were denied initially on December 29, 2010 [Tr. 22-32] and upon reconsideration on May 23, 2011. [ See Tr. 11, 51]. Subsequently, at Muncy's request, an administrative hearing was conducted before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Donald A. Rising on May 22, 2012. [Tr. 502-34]. During the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Muncy and vocational expert (VE) Jo Ann Bullard. [ Id. ] Muncy, who was forty-eight years old at the time of the hearing, has a tenth grade education, [Tr. 83, 508], and he has past relevant work experience as a maintenance worker. [Tr. 507]. The VE testified that Muncy could no longer perform that work, but testified that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Muncy could perform, and the ALJ accepted that testimony. [Tr. 531-33].

In evaluating a claim of disability, an ALJ conducts a five-step analysis. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.[1] First, if a claimant is working at 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 she does not have a severe impairment and is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). Third, if a claimant's impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, he is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). Fourth, if a claimant's impairments do not prevent her from doing past relevant work, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). Fifth, if a claimant's impairments (considering her residual functional capacity, 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, at Step 1, the ALJ found that Muncy has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 17, 2010, the alleged onset date. [Tr. 11]. At Step 2, the ALJ found that Muncy's discogenic and degenerative disorders of the back, his COPD, and his borderline intellectual functioning constituted severe impairments. [ Id. ] At Step 3, the ALJ found that Muncy's impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix I. [Tr. 16]. At Step 4, the ALJ determined that Muncy had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work with additional limitations, [Tr. 17], and found that he is unable to perform any past relevant work, [Tr. 18]. However, at Step 5 the ALJ relied on the testimony of the VE to find that, based on Muncy's residual functional capacity (RFC), there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Muncy could perform. [Tr. 19-20]. Accordingly, on February 23, 2011, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, finding that Muncy was not disabled and was therefore ineligible for DIB and SSI. [Tr. 20]. The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision on December 5, 2012, [R. 9-1 at 2; see Tr. 5], and Muncy now seeks judicial review in this Court.

II

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). 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." Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) ( en banc ) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

In determining the existence of substantial evidence, courts must examine the record as a whole. Id. (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, courts are not to conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts in evidence, or make credibility determinations. Id. (citations 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 Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999); see also Casey v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993); Kinsella v. Schweiker, 708 F.2d 1058, 1059 (6th Cir. 1983); Mullen, 800 F.2d at 545.

Citing various medical records, treating physician records, and his own testimony, Muncy broadly contends that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's determination that he is not disabled. [Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J., R. 9-1]. He also ostensibly asserts that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's RFC determination.[2] [ Id. ]

A

Muncy broadly claims that, contrary to the ALJ's decision, his medical records support a finding that he is disabled. Muncy contends that the ALJ's RFC determination, as well as the general conclusion that Muncy is not disabled, are not supported by substantial evidence. Ostensibly, he also argues that the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of his treating physician, Dr. Gregory Dye, without giving "good reasons" for doing so.[3]

1

Muncy argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's RFC determination and, generally, the ALJ's decision that Muncy is not disabled. [Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J., R. 9-1 at 3]. In his brief, he details his treatment history with Doctors Dye, ...


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