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Couch v. Colvin

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

January 2, 2017

DANNY RAY COUCH PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          David L Bunning United States 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

         On June 24, 2013, Plaintiff Danny Ray Couch protectively filed his application for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability as of June 21, 2013. (Tr. 136-42). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 58-86 and 68-76). On January 27, 2015, Administrative Law Judge Sheila Lowther conducted an administrative hearing at Plaintiff's request. (Tr. 28-57). ALJ Lowther ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits on April 10, 2015. (Tr. 13-27). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on September 8, 2015. (Tr. 2-7).

         On November 3, 2015, Plaintiff filed the instant action. (Doc. # 1). This matter has culminated in cross motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for the Court's review. (Docs. # 9 and 10).

         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 did not engage in substantial gainful activity from his alleged onset date (June 21, 2013) through his date last insured. (Tr. 18). At Step 2, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments through the date last insured: (1) history of right ankle sprain; (2) mild degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; (3) history of right shoulder injury; and (4) obesity. (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. 18-19). Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's spinal impairments did not meet the requirements of Listing 1.04 (disorders of the spine), or Listing 1.02 A or B (major dysfunction of a joint). (Id.). In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ noted that the record contained no evidence of nerve root compression, spinal arachnoiditis, or lumbar spinal stenosis with accompanying ineffective ambulation, nor problems with ambulation or involvement of a major joint in each upper extremity. (Id.). The ALJ also noted that while obesity may combine with other impairments to increase the severity or functional limitation of other impairments, the record in this case did not provide support for such a conclusion. (Id.).

         At Step 4, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c), except that he can “stand and walk six hours of an eight hour day; sit six hours of an eight hour day; and frequently reach and handle with the right arm.” (Id.). The ALJ further found that Plaintiff was able to perform past relevant work as a tipple supervisor. (Tr. 23).

         Accordingly, the ALJ did not proceeded to the final step of the sequential evaluation. (Id.). Based on the testimony of the VE and Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing his past relevant work, and thus concluded that he was not ...


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