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Hardin v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division

March 1, 2017

WALTER A. HARDIN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Walter Hardin seeks judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, which denied Hardin's claims for supplemental security income benefits and disability insurance benefits. Mr. Hardin 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 DENY Mr. Hardin's motion for summary judgment but will GRANT judgment in favor of the Commissioner.



         Plaintiff Walter A. Hardin filed an application for Title II disability insurance benefits and Title XVI supplemental social security in May 2013, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2011. [Transcript (hereinafter, “Tr.”) 65.] Hardin's motion for summary judgment explains that Hardin suffers from degenerative disc disease and various pulmonary problems, including recurring hemoptysis, a history of pulmonary embolism, and ongoing complications from his lobectomy like post-thoracotomy syndrome. [R. 8.] Hardin's claims for Title II and Title XVI benefits were denied initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr. 65.] Subsequently, a hearing was conducted upon Hardin's request. [Id.] Following the hearing, ALJ Bonnie Kittinger issued a final decision denying both of Hardin's claims for benefits. [Tr. 65-77.]

         To 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).[1] 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.

         Fourth, 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. § 404.1520(f).

         Through 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).

         At the outset of the case, the ALJ determined Mr. Hardin meets the insured requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017. [Tr. 67.] Then at step one, the ALJ found Hardin had engaged in substantial gainful activity from July 10, 2012 through March 9, 2013, but that, since that time, there had been a continuous twelve month period during which Hardin did not engage in substantial gainful activity. [Tr. 67-68.] At step two, the ALJ found Hardin suffers from severe impairments of degenerative disc disease and recurring hemoptysis, status-post pulmonary embolism. [Tr. 68.] At step three, the ALJ determined Hardin's combination of impairments did not meet or medially equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404 or Part 416. [Tr. 69.] Before moving on to step four, the ALJ considered the entire record and determined Hardin possessed the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 414.1567(b) and 416.967(b), with certain limitations described as follows:

[T]he claimant is able to lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, and he is able to stand/walk up to six hours and sit at least six hours in an eight-hour workday; however, he should be allowed to alternate sitting and standing at 45-60 minute intervals. He is able to climb ramps and stairs frequently; stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl occasionally, but should not climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds.

[Tr. 70.]

         After explaining how she determined Hardin's RFC [see Tr. 70-75], the ALJ found at step four that, based on this RFC, Hardin is capable of performing various jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. [Tr. 76.] Accordingly, the ALJ concluded Hardin was not disabled under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g) or 416.920(g). [Tr. 77.] The Appeals Council denied Hardin's request for review [Tr. 1], and Hardin now seeks review in this Court.



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