United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Ashland
JAMES F. CASSITY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
DAVID L. BUNNING, District Judge.
Plaintiff 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. The Court, having reviewed the record and for the reasons set forth herein, hereby reverses and remands the decision of the Commissioner.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff James Cassity filed an application for disability insurance benefits on November 16, 2010, alleging disability as of May 7, 2010. (Tr. 19). Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Id. ) On August 8, 2012, Administrative Law Judge Andrew J. Chwalibog conducted an administrative hearing at Plaintiff's request. (Id. ) On September 14, 2012, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled prior to March 3, 2012, but became disabled from that point on. (Tr. 29). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on November 27, 2013. (Tr. 1).
On January 13, 2014, Plaintiff filed the instant action. (Doc. # 1). This matter has culminated in cross-motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for adjudication. (Docs. # 12, 13).
A. Overview of the Process
Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is restricted to determining whether it is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards. See Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). "Substantial evidence" is defined as "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." Id. Courts are not to conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or make credibility determinations. Id. Rather, we are to affirm the Commissioner's decision, provided it is supported by substantial evidence, even if we might have decided the case differently. See Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999).
The ALJ, in determining disability, conducts a five-step analysis. Step 1 considers whether the claimant is still performing substantial gainful activity; Step 2, whether any of the claimant's impairments are "severe"; Step 3, whether the impairments meet or equal a listing in the Listing of Impairments; Step 4, whether the claimant can still perform her past relevant work; and Step 5, whether significant numbers of other jobs exist in the national economy which the claimant can perform. At the last step, the burden of proof shifts from the claimant to the Commissioner. See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003); Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).
B. The ALJ's Determination
As noted above, the ALJ's decision was partially favorable, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled prior to March 3, 2012, but became disabled from that point on. (Tr. 29). The reason for the ALJ's split decision is that Plaintiff's birthday is March 4, 1957, and, after turning fifty-five (55) years old, he became a "person of advanced age" under the medicalvocational guidelines. (Tr. 27); see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563 (defining an individual of advanced age as "55 or older"). Also, upon Plaintiff's fifty-fifth birthday, the ALJ adjusted his residual functional capacity (RFC) from having no exertional limitations to being restricted to light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b). (Tr. 26). Due to these changes, Plaintiff satisfied the criteria of Rule 202.04 beginning on March 3, 2012, and the ALJ was therefore required to find that Plaintiff became disabled as of that date. (Tr. 29). Of course, Plaintiff does not challenge this finding on appeal. Accordingly, the Court will only address the ALJ's disability determination prior to March 3, 2012.
At Step 1, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset of his disability. (Tr. 21). At Step 2, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following "severe" impairments: borderline intellectual functioning; mild speech impediment; residuals of cerebral palsy; and depression. (Id. ) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff's high blood pressure and cholesterol were non-severe. (Id. )
At Step 3, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. (Tr. 22-24). Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not meet the requirements of Listing 11.07 (cerebral palsy) because he achieved a full-scale IQ score of 74 and earned a college degree. (Tr. 22-23). Further, the ALJ noted that the record supported only a mild speech impairment and contained no evidence of gait disturbance, joint abnormality or neurological deficit. (Id. ) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff does not meet the requirements of Listings 12.02 (organic mental disorders) or 12.04 (affective disorders) because he did not satisfy the paragraph B criteria; i.e., he failed to demonstrate that his mental impairments resulted in at least two of the following: marked restriction of activities of daily living; marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration. (Tr. 23-24).
At Step 4, the ALJ concluded that prior to March 3, 2012, Plaintiff had the RFC to perform work at all exertional levels, subject to the ...