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Handshoe v. Berryhill

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

March 23, 2017

ELMER HANDSHOE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          GREGORY F. VAN TATENHOVE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Plaintiff, Mr. Elmer Handshoe, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, who denied Handshoe's claim for disability insurance benefits. The Court, having reviewed the record and for the reasons set forth herein, will DENY Mr. Handshoe's Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 7] and will GRANT the Commissioner's [R. 8.]

         I

         Handshoe filed his application for benefits on October 1, 2012, alleging disability beginning on November 10, 2011, due to multiple physical impairments. A video-hearing was conducted before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Michele Kelley on May 15, 2015, presiding from Seven Fields, Pennsylvania. [Tr. 10] At the hearing, Gina Baldwin, a vocational expert, testified. [Tr. 41.]

         Handshoe was fifty-two years old as of the date of the hearing. [Tr. 61.] He has a GED and previously worked as a “blastman assistant and a contract worker for a gas company, driving trucks and doing odd jobs for his employer.” [R. 8 at 2.] Handshoe alleges disability due to a slew of physical impairments. He complains of back pain; shoulder pain that makes him unable to raise his shoulders above his head; acid reflux; and stomach and bowel issues. [R. 7-1 at 2.]

         In evaluating a claim of disability, the ALJ conducts a five-step analysis. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.[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, then 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 to the fourth step, the ALJ must use all 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 impairments 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). The plaintiff has the ultimate burden of proving compliance with the first four steps. Kyle v. Comm'r Of Soc. Sec., 609 F.3d 847, 855 (6th Cir. 2010). 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).

         In this case, the ALJ issued his written decision on July 21, 2014. [Tr. 10-18.] At Step 1, the ALJ found that Handshoe had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of November 10, 2011. [Tr. 12.] At Step 2, the ALJ found that Handshoe had the following severe impairments: “chronic low back pain, bilateral shoulder internal derangement, and gastroduodenitis.” [Id.] Additional impairments were found to not be severe: “right knee pain, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), hiatal hernia, renal cysts, renal stones, hepatic steatosis, and pre-diabetes.” [Id.] At Step 3, the ALJ concluded that Handshoe does not have an “impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526), ” so the analysis continued to the next step. [Tr. 14.] At Step 4, the ALJ concluded that Handshoe had an RFC to “perform medium work (lift/carry/push/pull 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently) as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) . . .” [Tr. 14.] The ALJ noted the following specific limitations:

[H]e can stand/walk six hours total in an eight-hour workday; can sit six hours total in an eight-hour workday; cannot perform overhead reaching activities with either upper extremity; and must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, humidity, vibration, and hazards (unprotected heights, uneven surfaces, or dangerous machinery).

[Tr. 14.] With these limitations in mind, the ALJ determined that Handshoe was not capable of performing any past, relevant work. [Tr. 16.] Finally, at Step 5, the ALJ adopted the opinion of the vocational expert, that there were a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Handshoe could perform. [Tr. 17.] As a result, the ALJ concluded that Handshoe was not disabled. [Tr. 18.] The Appeals Council found no reason for review. [Tr 1.] Handshoe now seeks judicial review in this Court.

         II

         This Court's review is 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] decisionmakers can go either way, without interference by the courts.” Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (en banc) (quoting Baker v. Heckler, 730 F.2d 1147, 1150 (8th Cir. 1984)).

         In determining the existence of substantial evidence, 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) (citation omitted); 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 supports the opposite conclusion. See Ulman, 693 F.3d at 714; Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007); Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999).

         Handshoe argues that the Commissioner's decision “is not based on substantial evidence as required by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and that he Commissioner erred as a matter of law in determining that he is not entitled to DIB benefits for the reasons set ...


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