United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
KAREN K. CALDWELL, Chief District Judge.
This matter is before the Court for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment. (DE 9; DE 10). Plaintiff David Centers brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial relief of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). The Court, having reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner's decision as it is supported by substantial evidence and was decided by the proper legal standards.
I. OVERVIEW OF THE PROCESS
The Social Security Act and corresponding regulations provide a five-step sequential process for determining whether a claimant has a compensable disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); see also Rabbers v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 582 F.3d 647, 652 (6th Cir. 2009) (describing the administrative process). The five steps, in summary, are as follows:
1) If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, the claimant is not disabled.
2) If the claimant does not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment-i.e., an impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities-the claimant is not disabled.
3) If the claimant has a severe impairment(s) that meets or equals one of the listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations and meets the duration requirement, the claimant is disabled.
4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him or her from doing his or her past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled.
5) If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is disabled.
Rabbers, 582 F.3d at 652 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), 404.1520(b)-(g)). If, at any step in the process, the administrative law judge ("ALJ") concludes that the claimant is or is not disabled, then the ALJ can complete the "determination or decision and [the ALJ] do[es] not go on to the next step." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).
The claimant bears the burden of proof through the first four steps of the analysis; and, at step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Johnson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 652 F.3d 646, 651 (6th Cir. 2011). The claimant must, in order to satisfy his burden of proof, provide sufficient facts to find in his favor. Wright-Hines v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 597 F.3d 392, 396 (6th Cir. 2010).
II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND AND THE ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION
Centers filed his claim for DIB in July 2009, alleging an onset date of December 20, 2007. (Tr. at 9.) The agency denied his application initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. at 9.) Centers requested review by an ALJ, and the ALJ held a hearing on June 15, 2010 (Tr. at 86-110.) The ALJ subsequently issued an unfavorable decision on August 5, 2010 (Tr. at 9, 145.) After granting Centers' request for review, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded the case for the ALJ to obtain additional evidence to clarify plaintiff's work activity after the alleged onset date; to evaluate the severity of plaintiff's alleged hand impairment; to determine a new residual functioning capacity; and if warranted, to obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational expert clarify the effect of the assessed limitations on the relevant occupational base. (Tr. at 144-48.) The Appeals Council directed the ALJ to limit his or her decision to the period of December 20, 2007, the alleged onset date, to December 31, 2009, the claimant's date last insured. (Tr. at 145). Accordingly, on October 23, 2012, a hearing was held before a different ALJ. (Tr. at 28-85.) The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on November 16, 2012. (Tr. at 6-26.)
During the time period in question, Centers was forty-seven to forty-nine years old. He has a ninth-grade education and previously worked as a manufacturing laborer, a machine operator, an over-the-road truck driver, and a construction laborer. (Tr. at 40-51.) The vocational expert ("VE") described Centers' past work as "unskilled" and "semi-skilled" employment. (Tr. at 77-78.) Centers alleges disability due to osteoarthritis in multiple joints, including the hands; chronic low back pain; hypertension; pulmonary heart disease; COPD; migraines; loss of muscle strength in upper right ...