United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
GREGORY F. VAN TATENHOVE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Michael Anderson seeks judicial review of an administrative
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, which denied
Anderson's claim for supplemental security income
benefits as well as disability insurance benefits. Mr.
Anderson brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), alleging various errors on the part of the ALJ
considering the matter. The Court, having reviewed the record
and for the reasons set forth herein, will GRANT Mr.
Anderson's Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 12] and REMAND
the action to the Social Security Administration for further
James Michael Anderson filed an application for Title II
disability insurance benefits and Title XVI supplemental
social security in July 2013, alleging disability beginning
on January 6, 2012. [Transcript (hereinafter,
“Tr.”) 21.] Anderson's motion for summary
judgment explains that Anderson suffers from, among other
things, back pain, hernias, and mental health issues such as
depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. [See
R. 12-1 at 2.] Anderson's claims for Title II and Title
XVI benefits were denied initially and upon reconsideration.
[Tr. 21.] Subsequently, a hearing was conducted upon
Anderson's request. [See id.] Following the
hearing, ALJ Ronald M. Kayser issued a final decision denying
both of Anderson's claims for benefits. [Tr. 21-28.]
evaluate a claim of disability for both Title II disability
insurance benefit claims and Title XVI supplemental security
income claims, an ALJ conducts a five-step analysis.
Compare 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (disability
insurance benefit claims) with 20 C.F.R. §
416.920 (supplemental security income claims). First, if a
claimant is performing a substantial gainful activity, he 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 his physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities, he does not have a
severe impairment and is not “disabled” as
defined by the regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c).
Third, if a claimant's impairments meet or equal one of
the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1, he is “disabled.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(d). Before moving on to the fourth step, the ALJ
must use all of the relevant evidence in the record to
determine the claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), which assesses an individual's
ability to perform certain physical and mental work
activities on a sustained basis despite any impairment
experienced by the individual. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(e); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545.
the ALJ must determine whether the clamant has the RFC to
perform the requirements of his past relevant work, and if a
claimant's impairments do not prevent him from doing past
relevant work, he is not “disabled.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(e). Fifth, if a claimant's impairments
(considering his RFC, age, education, and past work) prevent
him from doing other work that exists in the national
economy, then he is “disabled.” 20 C.F.R. §
step four of the analysis, “the claimant bears the
burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations
caused by her impairments and the fact that she is precluded
from performing her past relevant work.” Jones v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir.
2003). At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to
identify a significant number of jobs that accommodate the
claimant's profile, but the claimant retains the ultimate
burden of proving his lack of residual functional capacity.
Id.; Jordon v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 548
F.3d 417, 423 (6th Cir. 2008).
outset of this case, the ALJ determined that Mr. Anderson
meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security
Act through December 31, 2016. [Tr. 21, 23]; see
also 20 C.F.R. § 404.131. Then at step one, the ALJ
found Anderson had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since his alleged disability onset date. [Tr. 23.]
At step two, the ALJ found Anderson to suffer from the severe
impairments of status-post hernia, bulging in the lumbar
spine, mild foraminal stenosis in the cervical spine, and a
recurrent major depressive disorder. [Tr. 24.] At step three,
the ALJ determined Anderson's combination of impairments
did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments
in 20 C.F.R. Part 404 or Part 416. [Id.] Before
moving on to step four, the ALJ considered the entire record
and determined Anderson possessed the residual functional
capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), with certain
limitations described as follows:
[H]e can only frequently climb ramps and stairs, balance,
stoop, crouch kneel and crawl; and must avoid climbing ropes,
scaffolds and ladders. He can perform the mental demands of
unskilled work, including the ability to understand, remember
and carry out detailed instructions and deal with change in
[Tr. 25.] After explaining how he determined Anderson's
RFC [Tr. 25-26], the ALJ found at step four that, based on
this RFC, Anderson is capable of performing various jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy.
Accordingly, the ALJ concluded Anderson was not disabled
under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g) or 416.920(g). [Tr.
27-28.] The Appeals Council initially declined to review the
ALJ's decision [see Tr. 8], but the Appeals
Council then set aside that decision to consider additional
information presented by Mr. Anderson. [Tr. 1-2.] After
considering the new information, however, the Appeals Council
once again declined to review the ALJ's decision.
[See id.] Anderson now seeks judicial review in this
Court's review is generally 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) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). The substantial evidence standard
“presupposes that there is a zone of choice within
which [administrative] decision makers can go either way,
without interference by the courts.” Mullen v.
Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (quoting
Baker v. Heckler, 730 F.2d 1147, 1150 (8th Cir.
determine whether substantial evidence exists, courts must
examine the record as a whole. Cutlip, 25 F.3d at
286 (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, a reviewing court
may not conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts
in the evidence, or make credibility determinations.
Ulman v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 693 F.3d 709, 713
(6th Cir. 2012); 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 ...