United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
Gregory F. Van Tatenhove United States District Judge.
Todd Buck seeks judicial review of an administrative decision
of the Commissioner of Social Security, which denied
Buck's claim for supplemental security income benefits,
disability insurance benefits, and continuation of a period
of disability. Mr. Buck 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. Buck's Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 11] and will
GRANT the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment [R.
Jeffrey Todd Buck filed an application for a Title II period
of disability and disability insurance benefits and Title XVI
supplemental social security in December 2012, alleging
disability beginning on July 1, 2012. [Transcript
(hereinafter, “Tr.”) 13.] Buck's motion for
summary judgment explains that Buck suffers from, among other
things, stress induced weight loss, lack of appetite due to
pain, back pain that runs into both legs, disc trouble,
severe arthritis in both thumbs, occasional limited mobility
due to pain, and mental health issues such as depression and
anxiety. [See R. 11-1 at 2.] Buck's claims for
Title II and Title XVI benefits were denied initially and
upon reconsideration. [Tr. 13.] Subsequently, a hearing was
conducted upon Buck's request. [See id.]
Following the hearing, ALJ Charles J. Arnold issued a final
decision denying all of Buck's claims for benefits. [Tr.
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. Buck meets
the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act
through March 30, 2015. [Tr. 13, 15]; see also 20
C.F.R. § 404.131. Then at step one, the ALJ found Buck
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 1,
2012, his alleged disability onset date. [Tr. 15.] At step
two, the ALJ found Buck to suffer from the severe impairments
of depression, lumbar degenerative disc disease, spinal
degenerative changes, and radiculopathy. [Tr. 15.] At step
three, the ALJ determined Buck'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 Buck possessed the residual functional
capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), with certain
limitations described as follows:
[L]imited to low stress unskilled work without high
production demands; no more than simple, routine, repetitive
tasks with simple instructions; no interactions with the
public; and only minimal or indirect contact with others at
[Tr. 17.] After explaining how he determined Buck's RFC
[Tr. 17-20], the ALJ found at step four that, based on this
RFC, Buck is unable to perform past relevant work. [Tr. 21.]
Even in light of this finding, the ALJ found that, following
the vocational expert's testimony, due to the Buck's
relatively young age, English language ability, education,
RFC, and work experience, there are a significant number of
jobs in the national economy that Buck can perform.
[Id.] Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Buck could
successfully adjust to other work and that Buck was not
disabled under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g) or
416.920(g). [Tr. 21-22.] Since the Appeals Council declined
to review the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's opinion
serves as the Commissioner's final decision.
[See Tr. 1-3.] Buck now seeks judicial review in
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 ...