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Hall v. Colvin

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

March 2, 2015

DENNIS KEITH HALL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

EDWARD B. ATKINS, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Dennis Keith Hall, 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. [Tr. at 377-80]. 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. 17]. For the reasons set forth herein, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 12] shall be denied, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 13] shall be granted, and Judgment shall be entered affirming the final decision of the Commissioner.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff was born in 1962. [Tr. at 256]. He has a GED and last worked as a heavy equipment operator for a coal company. [Tr. at 257-58]. In his Disability Report, Form SSA-3368, Plaintiff claimed his work ability was limited due to diabetes, cirrhosis, hepatitis B, and degenerative disc disease. [Tr. at 402]. Thus, Plaintiff filed for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on September 19, 2011. [Tr. at 377-80]. The Social Security Administration denied his claims initially [Tr. at 280] and upon reconsideration [Tr. at 294]. After denial of his claims, he requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). [Tr. at 323-24]. Subsequently, he testified at a hearing held on April 23, 2013 before ALJ Charlie Paul Andrus. [Tr. at 251-79]. At the hearing, Plaintiff was represented by counsel, Glenn Martin Hammond. [Tr. at 251]. During the hearing, the ALJ also heard testimony from Jenna Baldwin, a vocational expert. [Tr. at 251].

The ALJ ruled against Plaintiff in a written decision dated May 7, 2013. [Tr. at 229-50]. In his decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of "cirrhosis of the liver; hepatitis B; diabetes; degenerative joint disease of the spine; adjustment disorder; anxiety and depression (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(c))." [Tr. at 234]. 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)." [Tr. at 235]. 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. [Tr. at 237]. Further, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff was unable to perform past relevant work. [Tr. at 243]. However, the ALJ determined that "there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the [Plaintiff] can perform." [Tr. at 243]. Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a "disability" as defined by the Social Security Act. [Tr. at 245]. 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 227].

On October 17, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. [R. 1]. In his Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 12], 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. 13]. 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, 390 (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).

IV. ANALYSIS

In the present action, although the Plaintiff lists just one overarching argument-that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence-the Court discerns four separate issues:

1. Whether the ALJ gave appropriate weight to the opinion of the ...

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