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Griffith v. Colvin

United States District Court, Eastern District of Kentucky, Southern Division, London

March 23, 2015



David L. Bunning United States District Judge

This action was brought 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 the parties’ dispositive motions, will affirm the Commissioner’s decision, as it is supported by substantial evidence.


On July 25, 2011, Plaintiff Sherman Griffith applied for Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI), alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2001. (Tr. 134). Plaintiff asserts that he is unable to work because of injuries to his wrists, ankles, and hips, liver problems, and low back pain. (Tr. 50). His application was denied initially and again on reconsideration. (Tr. 50, 61). At Plaintiff’s request, an administrative hearing was conducted on January 14, 2013. (Tr. 10). On February 8, 2013, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ruled that Plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled to SSI. (Tr. 18). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review on March 28, 2014. (Tr. 1).

On April 17, 2014, Plaintiff filed the instant action. (Doc. # 2). The matter has culminated in cross-motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for review. (Docs. # 13, 14).


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

At Step 1, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date on July 25, 2011. (Tr. 12). At Step 2, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: status post left ankle fracture; status post fracture of right hand; status post fusion of the C6/7 vertebrae; depression, not otherwise specified; history of alcohol and benzodiazepine abuse, allegedly in remission; right knee osteoarthritis. (Id.). He further found that Plaintiff had non-severe gout and hepatitis. (Tr. 14). At Step 3, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id.). Relevant to this appeal, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not meet the requirements for Listing 12.04 because “the evidence does not establish ‘marked’ limitations in [Plaintiff’s] daily activities, social functioning or ability to maintain attention and concentration or any sustained episodes of decompensation . . . .” (Id.).

At Step 4, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform less than a full range of sedentary work with the following limitations: no climbing of ropes, ladders or scaffolds; occasional climbing of stairs or ramps and occasional stooping, kneeling crouching or crawling; restricted to frequent use of the right hand for handling; and no operation of foot pedal controls with the left foot. (Tr. 15). The ALJ further concluded that Plaintiff requires entry level work with simple repetitive procedures; no frequent changes in work routines; no detailed or complex problem solving, independent planning or the setting of goals; and that he should work in an object oriented environment with only occasional and casual contact with coworkers, supervisors, and the general public. (Id.).

The ALJ found that Plaintiff has no past relevant work, and therefore proceeded to the final step. (Tr. 16). At Step 5, the ALJ found that there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (Tr. 17). The ALJ based this conclusion on testimony from a vocational expert (VE), in response to a hypothetical question assuming an individual of Plaintiff’s age, education, work experience, and RFC. (Id.). The VE testified that given all these factors, and notwithstanding reductions for Plaintiff’s functional limitations, Plaintiff could perform unskilled entry level occupations at the sedentary level, including, but not limited to, the following: bench assembly (6, 000 in state/ 500, 000 nationally); and checking/inspecting jobs (550/280, 000). (Id.). Based on the VE’s testimony, and considering Plaintiff’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ...

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