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Kiser v. Colvin

United States District Court, Eastern District of Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland

May 13, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, DEFENDANT.


Edward B. Atkins United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff, Carla Jo Kiser, brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision to deny her application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. [R. 12-1 at 1]. Upon consent of the parties, this matter has been referred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of final judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. [R. 15]. For the reasons set forth herein, Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 12] shall be denied, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 16] shall be granted, and Judgment shall be entered affirming the final decision of the Commissioner.


Plaintiff was born in 1967. [Tr. at 135]. She has a high-school education and has worked as a meat packer, sandwich maker, night-stock clerk, prep cook, and cashier. [Tr. at 77-78]. In her Disability Report, Form SSA-3368, Plaintiff claimed her work ability was limited due to depression and bipolar disorder. [Tr. at 315]. Thus, Plaintiff filed for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on July 20, 2012. [Tr. at 69]. The Social Security Administration denied her claims initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr. at 69]. After denial of her claims, she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). [Tr. at 69]. Subsequently, she testified at a video hearing held on February 11, 2014 before ALJ Michele M. Kelley. [Tr. at 81]. At the hearing, Plaintiff was represented by counsel, William G. Arnett. [Tr. at 69]. During the hearing, the ALJ also heard testimony from David Asher Burnhill, a vocational expert. [Tr. at 69].

The ALJ ruled against Plaintiff in a written decision dated February 24, 2014. [Tr. at 66-81]. In her decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of “depression, anxiety and substance abuse (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).” [Tr. at 71]. Despite these conditions, the ALJ determined that “[t]he claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).” [Tr. at 72]. Continuing with her evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with certain nonexertional limitations, and she set forth her specific limitations in her opinion. [Tr. at 73]. Further, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff was able to perform past relevant work. [Tr. at 77]. Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a “disability” as defined by the Social Security Act. [Tr. at 80]. Following the adverse decision of the ALJ, Plaintiff properly exhausted her administrative remedies by appealing to the Social Security Appeals Council, which denied her request for review. [Tr. at 1-6].

On October 13, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court seeking review of the Commissioner’s decision. [R. 1]. In her Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 12], Plaintiff sets forth multiple arguments for reversal of the ALJ’s opinion. Defendant responds that the ALJ’s opinion should be affirmed, as it is supported by substantial evidence. [R. 16]. The case is now ripe for review.


A reviewing court must uphold the findings of the ALJ if they are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)(2006); see also Kirk v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 535 (6th Cir. 1981). The Sixth Circuit has held that “substantial evidence exists when a reasonable mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to support a conclusion.” Warner v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). The scope of judicial review is limited to the record itself, and the reviewing court “may not try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in evidence, nor decide questions of credibility.” Hogg v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 328, 331 (6th Cir. 1993).

The limited nature of substantial evidence review prevents the reviewing court from substituting its judgment for that of the ALJ. Rather, so long as substantial evidence exists, the reviewing court should affirm the ALJ’s decision “even if there is substantial evidence in the record that would have supported an opposite conclusion.” Longworth v. Comm’r Soc. Sec. Admin., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Sixth Circuit precedent suggests that a finding of “no substantial evidence” would be appropriate in situations where the ALJ ignores uncontested, compelling evidence for one side, makes no express findings on witness credibility and makes a ruling based on facts with “little if any evidentiary value.” Noe v. Weinberger, 512 F.2d 588 (6th Cir. 1975); see also Glass v. Sec’y of Health, Educ. & Welfare, 517 F.2d 224 (6th Cir. 1975). Otherwise, if there is substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s decision, “it must be affirmed even if the reviewing court would decide the matter differently.” Cutlip v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994).


In the present action, the Plaintiff alleges three different errors by the ALJ. Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that:

1. The ALJ erred by failing to properly consider all of Plaintiff’s impairments in determining Plaintiff’s residual ...

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