United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
GREGORY F. VAN TATENHOVE, District Judge.
Plaintiff Ronald Antonio Rosebud 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 denying his application for supplemental security income (SSI). The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment. [R. 43, 46]. The Court, having reviewed the record and for the reasons set forth herein, will REVERSE and REMAND the Commissioner's decision for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Rosebud protectively filed an application for SSI on July 5, 2011. [Transcript (Tr.) 62-77]. He alleges a disability beginning on that filing date due to HIV, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. [Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J., R. 12-2 at 3]. Rosebud's application was denied initially [Tr. 76] and upon reconsideration [Tr. 93]. Subsequently, at Rosebud's request, an administrative hearing was conducted before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Don Paris on August 21, 2012. [Tr. 27-61]. During the hearing, ALJ Paris heard testimony from Rosebud and vocational expert (VE) Chris Ryman. [Tr. 27-55, 55-61]. Rosebud, who was 38 years old at the time of the hearing, has a seventh-grade education and claimed he had no past relevant work experience. [Tr. 34-36]. The VE testified that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Rosebud could perform; the ALJ accepted that testimony. [Tr. 55-61].
Two additional facts are significant to this appeal. Rosebud was apparently awarded benefits in 1994 in an initial determination. [Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J., R. 43-1 at 3; Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., R. 46 at 3; see Tr. 160, 244-46]. Also, according to the parties' briefs and his own testimony from the hearing, Rosebud was subsequently incarcerated for "two and a half years" sometime around 2011. [Tr. 20; see Tr. 323-70].
In evaluating a claim of disability, an ALJ conducts a five-step analysis. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. First, if a claimant is working at a substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, if a claimant does not have any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limit her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, then she does not have a severe impairment and is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). Third, if a claimant's impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, she is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). Fourth, if a claimant's impairments do not prevent her from doing past relevant work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). Fifth, if a claimant's impairments (considering her residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work) prevent her from doing other work that exists in the national economy, then she is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).
In this case, at Step One, ALJ Paris found that Rosebud has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 5, 2011, the alleged onset date. [Tr. 15]. At Step Two, the ALJ found that Rosebud's borderline intellectual functioning, affective disorder, personality disorder, substance addiction disorder, HIV infection, and seizure disorder constituted severe impairments. [ Id. ] At Step Three, the ALJ found that Rosebud's impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix I. [Tr. 15-16].
At Step Four, the ALJ assigned Rosebud a residual functional capacity (RFC) with certain modifications, stating:
After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b). The claimant can occasionally lift or carry 20 pounds, and frequently lift or carry 10 pounds. He can stand, walk, or sit for six hours each (with normal breaks) in an eight-hour workday. Due to his diagnosis of seizure disorder, he should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and should avoid all workplace hazards such as unprotected heights or dangerous machinery. He can frequently climb ramps or stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. The claimant experiences mental impairments, but he can understand, remember, and carry out simple work instructions. He would do best with oral instruction and demonstration. He has sufficient attention and concentration for two-hour segments in an eight-hour workday. He would work best in an object-focused work environment where contact with co-workers and supervisors would be casual and infrequent, with only infrequent exposure to the general public. He would be able to adapt to changes in a non-complex work setting with no more than low to medium stress levels, and in work that is not fast paced or quota driven.
[Tr. 16]. Although Rosebud has no past relevant work history, [Tr. 21], at Step Five, ALJ Paris relied on the testimony of the VE to find that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Rosebud could perform. [Tr. 21-22]. Accordingly, on August 28, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, finding that Rosebud was not disabled and was therefore ineligible for SSI. [Tr. 23]. The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision on March 29, 2013, [Tr. 1-3], and Rosebud now seeks judicial review in this Court.
This Court's review is limited to whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Wright v. Massanari, 321 F.3d 611, 614 (6th Cir. 2003); Shelman v. Heckler, 821 F.2d 316, 319-20 (6th Cir. 1987). "Substantial evidence" is "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." Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). The substantial evidence standard "presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which decision makers can go either way, without interference from the court." Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) ( en banc ) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
In determining the existence of substantial evidence, courts must examine the record as a whole. Id. (citing Kirk v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 535 (6th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 957 (1983)). However, courts are not to conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts in evidence, or make credibility determinations. Id. (citations omitted); see also Bradley v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 862 F.2d 1224, 1228 (6th Cir. 1988). Rather, if the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it must be affirmed even if the reviewing court would decide the matter differently, and even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion. See Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th ...