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Couch v. Colvin

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

March 20, 2015

GARY COUCH, Plaintiff,


DAVID L. BUNNING, District Judge.

Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 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.


Plaintiff Gary Couch filed an application for disability insurance benefits on May 26, 2011, alleging disability as of April 12, 2010. (Tr. 10). Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. ( Id. ) On March 7, 2013, Administrative Law Judge Jonathan Stanley conducted an administrative hearing at Plaintiff's request. ( Id. ) On March 22, 2013, ALJ Stanley ruled that Plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 21). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on June 17, 2014. (Tr. 1).

On August 12, 2014, Plaintiff filed the instant action. (Doc. # 2). This matter has culminated in cross-motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for adjudication. (Docs. # 11, 12).


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. As to 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

At Step 1, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset of his disability. (Tr. 12). At Step 2, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's obesity, degenerative disc disease (cervical and lumbar spine), major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder NOS, and posttraumatic stress disorder were severe impairments within the meaning of the regulations. ( Id. )

At Step 3, the ALJ found 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. 13-14). At Step 4, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform less than the full range of light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. 416.967(b).

The claimant can perform work at the light exertional level except he can occasionally climb stairs and ramps, but cannot climb ropes, ladders and scaffolds; can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; can occasionally reach in all directions using his left non dominant upper extremity, but has no limitations with regard to use of his dominant right upper extremity; must avoid concentrated exposure to extremes in cold an vibration; cannot work at unprotected heights or around hazards, such as heavy equipment; can understand, remember and carry out short, simple instructions and make simple work-related judgments; can maintain adequate attention and concentration to perform simple tasks on a sustained basis with normal supervision; can manage and tolerate simple, routine changes in the work place setting; and can interact occasionally with supervisors and coworkers in a nonpublic work environment.

(Tr. 14). Based on this assessment, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work ...

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