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Bala v. Berryhill

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

May 11, 2017

RAYMOND LEONARD BALA PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          David L. Bunning United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Court, having reviewed the record and for the reasons set forth herein, will affirm the Commissioner's decision.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) on July 22, 2013, alleging disability beginning May 25, 2013. (Tr. 10). Plaintiff's application for DIB was denied on October 22, 2013. Id. Plaintiff appealed, and his Request for Reconsideration was denied on January 22, 2014. Id. Plaintiff then filed a Request for Hearing by Administrative Law Judge. Id. On April 14, 2015, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Don C. Paris ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to DIB. Id. The decision became final on May 14, 2016, when the Appeals Council denied review of Plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 3-6). On June 28, 2016, Plaintiff filed suit in this Court. (Doc. # 2). The parties then filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment, which are now ripe for review. (Docs. # 13 & 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 of 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 must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence even if the Court might have decided the case differently, Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999), and 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. 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 past relevant work; and Step Five, whether a significant number of other jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can perform. For 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

         At Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 25, 2013, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 12). At Step Two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: history of compression fractures of the thoracic and lumbar spine, and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. Id. At Step Three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 14).

         At Step Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff possesses the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform medium work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c), with the following limitations:

[Plaintiff] can lift and carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently. He can stand/walk six hours, and walk six hours, out of an eight-hour workday. He can climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, or scaffolds no more often than frequently. He should avoid concentrated exposure to full-body vibration.

(Tr. 14-20). Based upon this RFC and relying on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work as a maintenance worker/janitor or construction worker. (Tr. 20).

         The ALJ proceeded to Step 5 and found that there were a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 20-21). In making this conclusion, the ALJ asked the VE whether jobs existed in the national economy for an individual of claimant's age, education, work experience, and RFC. Id. The VE testified that Plaintiff could find work at the medium exertional level as a laundry worker (1, 000 jobs in Kentucky, 60, 000 nationally), hand packer (15, 000 jobs in Kentucky, 1, 165, 000 nationally), or bagger (2, 000 jobs in the state, 160, 000 nationally). Id. Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was ...


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