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Belcher v. Colvin

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

April 21, 2015

HENRY BELCHER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DAVID L. BUNNING, District Judge.

Plaintiff 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. The Court, having reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner's decision, as it is supported by substantial evidence.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff Henry Belcher filed his current application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) payments, alleging disability as of October 18, 2010. (Tr. 200-17). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 79-108, 113-42). On October 18, 2012, Administrative Law Judge Bonnie Kittinger conducted an administrative hearing at Plaintiff's request. (Tr. 33-78). ALJ Kittinger ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits on February 5, 2013. (Tr. 15-27). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on March 20, 2014. (Tr. 1-5).

On April 18, 2014, Plaintiff filed the instant action. (Docs. # 1 and 2). This matter has culminated in cross motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for review. (Docs. # 12 and 13).

II. DISCUSSION

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 his 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 date. (Tr. 17). At Step 2, the ALJ found Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease and depression to be severe impairments within the meaning of the regulations. (Id. ).

At Step 3, the ALJ concluded 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, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 17-18). Having reviewed the medical evidence of record, the ALJ first found that "not all of the specific criteria have been documented during the period at issue to establish that [Plaintiff's] degenerative disc disease meets or equals [Listing 1.04 (disorders of the spine)]." (Tr. 18). The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff's depression did not meet the requirements of Listing 12.04 (affective disorders) because his daily activities suggested only mild limitations in social functioning and he had not experienced repeated episodes of decompensation. (Tr. 18-19).

At Step Four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b); that is:

[H]e can stand and walk for a total of 2 hours and sit for a total of 6 hours in [an] 8-hour workday. He can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs. The claimant can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. He will need to avoid concentrated exposure to cold temperature extremes, vibration, and humidity. The claimant must avoid exposure to dangerous machinery and unprotected heights. He is able to understand and remember simple and detailed instructions, and can carry out such instructions to complete tasks in 2 hour segments over ...

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