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Halcomb v. Berryhill

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

May 1, 2017

GREGORY C. HALCOMB PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          David L. Banning, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff 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 the Commissioner.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On September 19, 2011, Plaintiff Gregory C. Halcomb applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) payments, alleging disability beginning on February 14, 2011. (Tr. 273-178, 279-282). Plaintiff's application was denied initially and again on reconsideration. (Tr. 115-124, 125-138). At Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was conducted on May 13, 2013, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Roger L. Reynolds. (Tr. 87-114). On June 6, 2013, ALJ Reynolds issued an unfavorable decision, finding that Plaintiff was not entitled to disability benefits. (Tr. 147-57). On August 4, 2014, at Plaintiff's request, the Appeals Council remanded Plaintiff's case back to the ALJ, with instructions to remedy several errors. (Tr. 163-167).

         In accordance with the Appeals Council's Order, another administrative hearing was held on March 9, 2015. (Tr. 55-86). On March 24, 2015 ALJ Reynolds issued another unfavorable decision, finding that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 32-48). This decision became final when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 17, 2016. (Tr. 1-7). Plaintiff filed the instant action on April 8, 2016. (Doc. # 1). The matter has culminated in cross-motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for adjudication. (Docs. # 13 and 15).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Overview of the Process

         Judicial 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).

         To 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).

         B. The ALJ's Determination

         ALJ Reynolds began the sequential evaluation by determining at Step One that the Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 14, 2011, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 37). At Step Two, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff had five “severe” impairments: (1) chronic neck pain secondary to degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, (2) left shoulder supraspinatus tendinopathy with intrasubstance tear and osteoarthritis of the AC Joint, (3) left carpal tunnel syndrome, (4) coal worker's pneumoconiosis, and (5) migraine headaches. Id.

         At Step Three, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff does not have an impairment, or combination of impairments, listed in or medically equal to an impairment in the Listings of Impairments. (Tr. 37-39 (citing 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1)). In doing so, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's left shoulder osteoarthritis did not satisfy the criteria of Listing 1.02(B). (Tr. 38). The ALJ further found that Plaintiff's chronic neck pain did not meet or equal the requirements of Listing 1.04. Id. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff's carpal tunnel syndrome did not meet or medically equal any of the listings in Section 11.00, including Listing 11.14. Id. With respect to the Plaintiff's coal worker's pneumoconiosis, the ALJ determined that the medical evidence did not satisfy the criteria in Listing 3.02 or Listing 3.03. (Tr. 38-39). And lastly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's migraine headaches, which are not specifically addressed in a listing, failed to meet the criteria of Listing 11.03, which “most closely matches the symptoms of migraines.” (Tr. 39).

         At Step Four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work activity with the additional following restrictions:

[T]he claimant can lift and carry up to twenty pounds occasionally with the right dominant hand/arm and ten pounds frequently; can lift and carry [ten] pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently with the left non-dominant hand/arm; occasional use of the left arm for front, lateral, and overhead reaching; frequent use of the left non-dominant hand for grasping, pinching, fingering, or feeling; no work requiring frequent turning of the head; no climbing of ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; occasional climbing of stairs or ramps; no exposure to concentrated dust, gases, smoke, fumes, ...

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