United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, London
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. Hood, Senior U.S. District Judge
Charlene Sumner 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, will AFFIRM the
Commissioner's decision, as it is supported by
review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to
determining whether it is supported by substantial evidence
and was made pursuant to proper legal standards. Cutlip
v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284,
286 (6th Cir. 1994). “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.” Id. Courts are not to conduct a
de novo review, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or make
credibility determinations. Id. Rather, we are to
affirm the Commissioner's decision, provided it is
supported by substantial evidence, even if we might have
decided the case differently. See Her v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999).
ALJ, in determining disability, conducts a five-step
analysis. See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336
F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). Step One considers whether the
claimant is still performing substantial gainful activity;
Step Two, whether any of the claimant's impairments 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 his past
relevant work; and Step Five, whether significant numbers of
other jobs exist in the national economy which the claimant
can perform. As to the last step, the burden of proof shifts
from the claimant to the Commissioner. Id.; see
also Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs.,
14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).
January 7, 2008, Plaintiff filed a Title XVI application for
supplemental security income (“SSI”), alleging
disability as of July 1, 2003. [TR 192-94]. Plaintiff's
claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. [TR
63-64, 78-87]. Plaintiff then requested a hearing on the
matter. [TR 69-72]. However, Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) David Daugherty reviewed the evidence of
record and found that it “support[ed] a fully favorable
decision, ” obviating the need for a hearing.
[Id.]. Accordingly, on October 6, 2008, ALJ
Daugherty issued a written decision, in which he concluded
that Plaintiff was disabled as of July 1, 2003.
[Id.]. Attorney Eric C. Conn represented Plaintiff
throughout this disability determination process.
Office of the Inspector General later notified the Social
Security Administration (“SSA”) that there was
reason to believe that fraud was involved in certain cases
submitted to the SSA by Eric C. Conn, which included faulty
evidence submitted by Bradley Adkins, Ph. D., Srinivas
Ammisetty, M.D., Frederic Huffnagle, M.D., and/or David P.
Herr, D.O., between January 2007 and May 2011. [TR 20].
Because Plaintiff was represented by Eric C. Conn during the
aforementioned time period, and because her case included
evidence obtained from one or more of the aforementioned
medical providers, the SSA had to redetermine her eligibility
for benefits. [Id.].
redetermining Plaintiff's claim for benefits, the Appeals
Council (“AC”) was obliged to disregard all
evidence obtained from the aforementioned medical providers.
[Id.]. On July 16, 2015, the AC found that ALJ
Daugherty's decision was not supported by the remaining
evidence. [TR 73-74]. It then remanded the case to ALJ Joseph
R. Doyle for a new hearing and further redetermination
proceedings. [Id.; TR 20].
March 11, 2016, ALJ Doyle held a video hearing. [TR 21].
Plaintiff, now represented by attorney Ronald C. Cox,
participated in the hearing, along with impartial vocational
expert David E. Stewart. [Id.]. Consistent with the
AC's instructions, ALJ Doyle disregarded evidence
obtained from the aforementioned medical providers, but
“considered all other evidence relating to the period
prior to the original allowance date of October 6, 2008,
including new and material evidence reasonably related to the
period at issue.” [TR 21]. ALJ Doyle also preserved
Plaintiff's objection to the constitutionality of the
redetermination process, but explained that he lacked the
authority to adjudicate the issue. [Id.]. He then
proceeded with his disability determination analysis.
One, ALJ Doyle found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date.
[TR 24]. At Step Two, he concluded that Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: fibromyalgia/chronic pain
syndrome, arthritis, affective mood disorder, and sleep
impairment. [TR 21]. At Step Three, ALJ Doyle determined that
Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments listed in, or medically equal to, an impairment
listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. [TR
26-29]. In reaching this conclusion, ALJ Doyle found that
Plaintiff's arthritis did not meet the requirements of
Listing 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint) because she
“ambulated independently without difficulty,
demonstrated intact motor strength in all extremities and was
found to have normal gross manipulation and grip
strength.” [TR 26].
Doyle also determined that Plaintiff's back pain did not
meet Listing 1.04 (disorders of the spine) because the
medical records “did not establish the requisite
evidence of nerve root compression, spinal arachnoiditis or
lumbar spinal stenosis.”[Id.]. Finally, he
concluded that Plaintiff's mental impairments did not
meet the criteria of Listing 12.04 (depressive, bipolar and
related disorders) or Listing 12.06 (anxiety and
obsessive-compulsive disorders) because Plaintiff had only
mild restrictions in activities of daily living, moderate
difficulties with concentration, and no extended episodes of
decompensation. [TR 27-28].
Four, ALJ Doyle found that Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium
work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c), except that
Plaintiff “could never climb ladders, ropes or
scaffolds; should avoid all exposure to operational controls
of moving machinery and unprotected heights; and limited to
the performance of simple, routine and repetitive
tasks.” [TR 29]. Because Plaintiff had no past relevant
work, transferability of job skills was not an issue. [TR
Doyle then proceeded to the final step of the sequential
evaluation. [TR 34-35]. At Step Five, he determined that
there were a significant number of jobs in the national
economy that Plaintiff could perform. [Id.]. ALJ
Doyle based this conclusion on testimony from a vocational
expert (“VE”), in response to a hypothetical
question assuming an individual of Plaintiff's age,
education, work experience, and RFC. [Id.]. The VE
testified that such an individual could find work as a buffer
(29, 300 jobs nationwide), checker (480, 000 jobs nationwide)
or hand packager (43, 100 jobs nationwide). [Id.].
Based on the testimony of the VE, ALJ Doyle found that
Plaintiff was capable of making a successful adjustment to
other work. [Id.]. Thus, he concluded ...