United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, Pikeville
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
February 13, 2013, Plaintiff Juanita Elswick applied for
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, alleging
disability beginning on January 1, 2012. (Tr. 20, 186-191).
Plaintiffs application was denied initially and again on
reconsideration. (Tr. 70-71). At Plaintiffs request, an
administrative hearing was conducted on June 10, 2015, before
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Maria Hodges. (Tr.
39-54). On July 8, 2015, ALJ Hodges issued an unfavorable
decision, finding that Plaintiff was not entitled to
disability benefits. (Tr. 20-32). This decision became final
when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review
on July 9, 2016. (Tr. 1-6). Plaintiff filed the instant
action on August 4, 2016. (Doc. # 1). The matter has
culminated in cross-motions for summary judgment, which are
now ripe for adjudication. (Docs. # 11 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 [Plaintiffs] 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.
The ALJ's Determination
Hodges began the sequential evaluation by determining at Step
One that the Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since her application date of February 13, 2013.
(Tr. 22). At Step Two, the ALJ found that Plaintiffs
degenerative disc disease, arthritis, chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease (COPD), adjustment disorder, and anxiety
disorder were severe impairments within the meaning of the
regulations. (Tr. 22-25).
Three, the ALJ found 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. Pt. 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1. (Tr. 25). In doing so, the ALJ determined
that the Plaintiffs degenerative disc disease and arthritis
impairments failed to meet the requirements of Listings 1.02,
1.04, or 14.09. Id. The ALJ further found that
Plaintiffs COPD did not meet or equal the requirements of
Listing 3.02. Id. Similarly, the ALJ found that
Plaintiffs mental impairments, considered singly and in
combination, did not meet or medically equal Listing 12.04 or
Listing 12.06. (Tr. 26).
Four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to perform medium work activity
with the additional following restrictions:
[Plaintiff can] frequently climb ramps/stairs, stoop, kneel,
crouch or crawl; occasionally climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds;
frequently handle; and should avoid concentrated exposure to
vibration, hazards, and pulmonary irritants. Mentally, she
can understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions;
and should have only occasional interaction with others with
no production quotas.
(Tr. 27). Based upon this RFC, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work as a
food preparation worker or food service worker. (Tr. 30).
the ALJ proceeded to the final step of the sequential
evaluation. At Step Five, the ALJ found that there are a
significant number of jobs in the economy that Plaintiff
could perform. (Tr. 31). The ALJ based this conclusion on
testimony from a vocational expert (VE), in response to a
hypothetical question assuming an individual of Plaintiffs
age, education, work experience, and RFC. Id. The VE
testified that a hypothetical individual with Plaintiffs
vocation profile and RFC could find medium-level work as a
store laborer or sorter, light-level work as a package tagger
or small parts assembler, or sedentary-level work ...