United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. BUNNING, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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 and the parties' dispositive motions, and for
the reasons set forth herein, hereby affirms the decision of
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
1, 2013, Plaintiff Meloris Aieleen Baker protectively applied
for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability
Insurance Benefits (DIB) payments, alleging disability
beginning on July 1, 2013. (Tr. 10, 42, 53). Plaintiff's
application was denied initially and again on
reconsideration. (Tr. 91-94, 97-110). At Plaintiff's
request, an administrative hearing was conducted on April 23,
2015, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Don
C. Paris. (Tr. 21-41). On May 21, 2015, ALJ Paris ruled that
Plaintiff was not entitled to disability benefits. (Tr.
10-16). This decision became final when the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 25, 2016.
(Tr. 1-5). Plaintiff filed the instant action on May 27,
2016. (Doc. # 1). The matter has culminated in cross-motions
for summary judgment, which are now ripe for adjudication.
(Docs. # 12 and 13).
Overview of the Process
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
Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 729 (6th Cir. 2007).
“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.” Cutlip
v. Sec'y Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286
(6th Cir. 1994). Courts are not to conduct a de novo
review, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or make
credibility determinations. Id. Rather, the court is
required to affirm the Commissioner's decision, as long
as it is supported by substantial evidence, even if it might
have decided the case differently. Her v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999). If
supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's
findings must be affirmed, even if there is evidence favoring
Plaintiff's side. Listenbee v. Sec'y of Health
& Human Servs., 846 F.2d 345, 349 (6th Cir. 1988).
Similarly, an administrative decision is not subject to
reversal merely because substantial evidence would have
supported the opposite conclusion. Smith v. Chater,
99 F.3d 780, 781-82 (6th Cir. 1996).
determine disability, the ALJ conducts a five-step analysis.
“If, at any step during the process, it is determined
that the claimant is or is not disabled, the process is
terminated.” Despins v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 257 F. App'x 923, 928-29 (6th Cir. 2007). Step
One considers whether the claimant can still perform
substantial gainful activity; Step Two, whether any of the
claimant's impairments, alone or in combination, are
“severe;” Step Three, whether the impairments
meet or equal a listing in the Listing of Impairments; Step
Four, whether the claimant can still perform her past
relevant work; and Step Five, whether a significant number of
other jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant
can perform. As to the last step, the burden of proof shifts
from the claimant to the Commissioner to identify “jobs
in the economy that accommodate [Plaintiff's] residual
functional capacity.” See Jones v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003); see
also Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs.,
14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).
Paris began the sequential evaluation by determining at Step
One that the Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since her alleged onset date of July 1, 2013. (Tr.
12). At Step Two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not
have a severe impairment or combination of impairments that
has “significantly limited (or is expected to
significantly limit) the ability to perform basic
work-related activities for 12 consecutive months.”
(Tr. 13-15). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was
not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security
Act, from the alleged onset date through the date of the
decision. (Tr. 15-16).
alleges the ALJ erred by terminating the sequential
evaluation at Step Two and asks the Court to reverse and
remand the disability determination. (Doc. # 12-1 at 1).
Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the record supports the
conclusion that she suffered from a “severe”
impairment or combination of impairments because she has been
“diagnosed with bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome,
degenerative changes in her back, and perhaps [has]
rheumatoid arthritis.” Id. Plaintiff also
claims that the “ALJ failed to consider whether [her]
carpal tunnel syndrome and lumbar spine degeneration, in
combination, specifically limited her physical ability to do
basic work activities.” Id.
The ALJ applied the correct legal standard at Step Two.
Plaintiff makes two arguments regarding the ALJ's
application of the legal standard for Step Two. First,
Plaintiff claims that the ALJ “did not address the
issue of rheumatoid arthritis in his decision.” (Doc. #
12-1 at 3-4). The record belies this assertion.
Two involves two related inquiries. Initially, the ALJ must
identify a claimant's medically determinable impairments.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1521. To establish a medically
determinable impairment, the claimant must present proof of a
“physical or mental impairment” that can
“be established by objective medical evidence from an
acceptable medical source.” Id. Therefore,
there must be evidence of the impairment “shown by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques.” Id. The ALJ will not rely on a
claimant's “statement of symptoms, a diagnosis, or
a medical opinion to establish the existence of an
impairment(s).” Id. Finally, and only after
the claimant establishes that they “have a medically
determinable impairment(s), ” the ALJ considers
“whether [the claimant's] impairment(s) is
severe.” Id. Here, the ALJ concluded that
“the medical evidence of record [did] not support
medically determinable impairments related to”
arthritis. (Tr. 13). Therefore, the ALJ did not analyze
whether Plaintiff's potential arthritis was
support of her argument that the ALJ “did not address
the issue of rheumatoid arthritis in his decision, ”
the Plaintiff cites to November 2014 records from the
University of Kentucky's Neuroscience Institute. (Doc. #
12-1 at 3) (citing Tr. 291-296 (“Exhibit 6F”)).
Those records indicate a possible diagnosis of arthritis and
recommend “labs to rule out other confounding factors,
bilateral wrist x-rays to assess RA affect, and referral to
Rheum[atologist] for evaluation and treatment of RA.”
(Tr. 294; “Exhibit 6F”, p. 4). Plaintiff's
counsel apparently believes that Medicaid “did not
approve these further tests” and thus, “they were
not done.” (Doc. # 12-1 at 4). However, that testing
did occur, and the ALJ relied on that testing in refusing to
consider Plaintiff's “possible” arthritis as
a medically determinable impairment. (Tr. 283-290;
“Exhibit 5F”, p. 1-8).
to the Plaintiff's argument, the ALJ specifically
considered Plaintiff's “possible [diagnosis] of
rheumatoid arthritis.” (Tr. 13). However, there was no
conclusive diagnosis for Plaintiff's
“possible” arthritis - diagnostic imaging studies
and laboratory tests all proved to be within normal limits.
Relying on the February 2015 medical records from the
University of Kentucky's Department of Rheumatology (Tr.
283-290; “Exhibit 5F”, p. 1-8), the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff's “possible”
arthritis did not constitute a medically determinable
impairment because “examinations have not included any
tenderpoint inventory, and x-rays of the claimant's hands
and wrists … showed no erosive changes.” (Tr.
13). Likewise, testing “found normal c-reactive protein
and sedimentation rate.” Id. (citing