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Clark v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division

July 9, 2015

STEPHEN E. CLARK, Plaintiff
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

H. BRENT BRENNENSTUHL, District Judge.

BACKGROUND

The Commissioner of Social Security denied Stephen E. Clark's application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. Clark seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both Clark (DN 15-1) and the Commissioner (DN 18) have filed a Fact and Law Summary. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties have consented to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge conducting all further proceedings in this case, including issuance of a memorandum opinion and entry of judgment, with direct review by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the event an appeal is filed (DN 13).

FINDINGS OF FACT

After he lost his job with Purdue Farms, Inc., Stephen E. Clark ("Clark") applied for DIB and SSI benefits, claiming he became disabled on August, 22, 2011, as a result of a heart attack and two stents (Tr. 217). His application was denied initially and again on reconsideration (Tr. 84, 97, 111, 124). Administrative Law Judge Kathleen M. Thomas ("ALJ") conducted a video hearing in Paducah, Kentucky (Tr. 39). Clark attended the hearing by video teleconference in Owensboro, Kentucky, and was represented by Lee Rose Doyle (Tr. 39). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on June 18, 2013 (Tr. 33).

The ALJ applied the traditional five-step sequential analysis promulgated by the Commissioner, 20 C.F.R § 404.1520; Kyle v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 609 F.3d 847, 855 (6th Cir. 2010), and found as follows. First, Clark has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 22, 2011, his alleged onset date (Tr. 22). Second, Clark has the following severe impairments: "coronary artery disease status post acute myocardial infarction, degenerative joint disease of the left shoulder, and degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine" (Tr. 22). Third, none of Clark's impairments or combination of impairments meets or medically equals the severity of a listed impairment from 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1 (Tr. 23). Fourth, Clark has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a full range of light work (Tr. 23). Fifth and finally, Clark is capable of performing his past relevant work as a crane operator, which did not require performance of any work-related activities precluded by his RFC.

Clark appealed the ALJ's decision (Tr. 16). The Appeals Counsel declined review (Tr. 1). At that point, the denial became the final decision of the Commissioner, and Clark appealed to this Court (DN 1).

CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

A. Standard of Review

When reviewing the Administrative Law Judge's decision to deny disability benefits, the Court may "not try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of credibility." Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). Instead, the Court's review of the Administrative Law Judge's decision is limited to an inquiry as to whether the Administrative Law Judge's findings were supported by substantial evidence, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 353 (6th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted), and whether the Administrative Law Judge employed the proper legal standards in reaching her conclusion. See Landsaw v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th Cir. 1986). Substantial evidence exists "when a reasonable mind could accept the evidence as adequate to support the challenged conclusion, even if that evidence could support a decision the other way." Cotton v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 692, 695 (6th Cir. 1993).

B. Residual Functional Capacity

Clark argues that the ALJ's decision must be reversed for five reasons, all of which relate to the ALJ's RFC determination at Finding No. 5 (DN 15-1). The ALJ's Finding No. 5 states, "[A]fter careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)" (Tr. 23).

1. Treating Physician Rule

Clark first argues that the ALJ violated the "treating physician rule" by failing to give controlling weight to the opinion of Dr. Albert Mercer, his cardiologist (DN 15-1, at p.3). Specifically, Clark claims that the ALJ did not provide adequate reasoning for failing to give controlling weight to Dr. Mercer's opinion that Clark is disabled and should be limited to less than sedentary work (Id. at p.5-6). Clark also argues that the ALJ erred in not considering the factors listed in 20 CFR § 404.1527(D)(2)[1] (Id. at p.7). The Commissioner argues in opposition that the ALJ properly determined that Dr. Mercer's opinion should not be afforded controlling weight and gave good reasons for doing so (DN 18, at p.7). The ...


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