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Bustillos v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky

March 24, 2015



HENRY R. WILHOIT, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff has brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g) to challenge a final decision of the Defendant denying Plaintiffs application for disability insurance benefits. The Court having reviewed the record in this case and the dispositive motions filed by the parties, and being otherwise sufficiently advised, for the reasons set forth herein, finds that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed.


Plaintiff filed his current application for disability insurance benefits on February 23, 2010, alleging disability beginning on November 16, 2007, due to bipolar disorder, anxiety, panic attacks, depression and periods of psychosis (Tr. 250). This application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Thereafter, upon request by Plaintiff, an administrative hearing was conducted by Administrative Law Judge Dwight Wilkerson (hereinafter "ALJ"), wherein Plaintiff, accompanied by counsel, testified. At the hearing, Micha A. Doud, a vocational expert (hereinafter "VE"), also testified.

At the hearing, pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.920, the ALJ performed the following five-step sequential analysis in order to determine whether the Plaintiff was disabled:

Step 1: If the claimant is performing substantial gainful work, he is not disabled.
Step 2: If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful work, his impairment(s) must be severe before he can be found to be disabled based upon the requirements in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b).
Step 3: If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful work and has a severe impairment (or impairments) that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and his impairments (or impairments) meets or medically equals a listed impairment contained in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4, the claimant is disabled without further inquiry.
Step 4: If the claimant's impairment (or impairments) does not prevent him from doing his past relevant work, he is not disabled. Step 5: Even if the claimant's impairment or impairments prevent him from performing his past relevant work, if other work exists in significant numbers in the national economy that accommodates his residual functional capacity and vocational factors, he is not disabled.

The ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled (Tr. 16-24). Plaintiff was 55 years old at the time of the hearing decision. He has a high school education as well as a technical degree. His past relevant work experience consists of work as a warehouse worker, forklift operator, repair technician for electronics, HVAC technician, machine tender, picture framer, and field engineer.

At Step 1, the ALJ found Plaintiff had engaged in substantial gainful activity from January 2008 through January 2009 (Tr. 18). For the remaining period(s), the ALJ proceeded with the evaluation process and found at Step 2 that Plaintiff had severe impairments of a mood disorder, anxiety disorder, personality disorder, impulse control disorder, and polysubstance dependence (Tr. 19). At Step 3, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled a listed impairment (Tr. 19). In doing, he specifically considering Listings 12.04, 12.06, 12.08 and 12.09 (Tr. 19-21). The ALJ then found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but was limited to simple, unskilled work in a low stress environment without strict production quotas, frequent changes, or fast-paced work; should not have contact with the general public; may have occasional, superficial contact with others; and would be off task ten percent of the time (Tr. 21-22). At Step 4, the ALJ found Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work (Tr. 40). Proceeding to the 5th and final step, the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform other work as identified by the vocational expert (VE) and, therefore, was not disabled (Tr. 41-42, 80-81).

The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review and adopted the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff thereafter filed this civil action seeking a reversal of the Commissioner's decision. Both parties have filed Motions for Summary Judgment [Docket Nos. 10 and 11] and this matter is ripe for decision.


A. Standard of Review

The essential issue on appeal to this Court is whether the ALJ' s decision is supported by substantial evidence. "Substantial evidence" is defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion;" it is based on the record as a whole and must take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight. Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). If the Commissioner's decision is suppotted by substantial evidence, the reviewing Court must affirm. Kirk v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 667 F.2d 524, 535 (6th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 957 (1983). "The court may not try the case de novo nor resolve conflicts in evidence, nor decide questions of credibility." Bradley v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 862 F.2d 1224, 1228 (6th Cir. 1988). Finally, this Court must defer to the Commissioner's decision "even if there is substantial evidence in the record that would have supported an opposite conclusion, so long as substantial evidence supports the conclusion reached by the ALJ." Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir.1997).

B. Plaintiff's Contentions on Appeal

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ's finding of no disability is erroneous because: (1) the ALJ erred at Step 3 in finding that Plaintiff did not satisfy the requirements of Listing 12.04 and (2) the ALJ did not properly weigh the medical evidence.

C. Analysis of Contentions on Appeal

Plaintiffs first claim of error is that the ALJ erred at Step 3 in finding that Plaintiff did not satisfy the requirements of Listing 12.04.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals stated in Her v. Commissioner of Social Security, 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th Cir. 1999), "the burden of proof lies with the claimant at steps one through four of the [sequential disability benefits analysis], " including proving presumptive disability by meeting or exceeding a Medical Listing at step three. Thus, Plaintiff "bears the burden of proof at Step Three to demonstrate that he has or equals an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1." Arnold v. Commissioner of Social Security, 238 F.3d 419, 2000 WL 1909386, *2 (6th Cir. 2000 (Ky)), citing Burgess v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 964 F.2d 524, 528 (6th Cir. 1992). If the Plaintiff "can show an impairment is listed in ...

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