United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
Gregory F. Van Tatenhove United States District Judge.
Wayne Brewer seeks judicial review of an administrative
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, which denied
Brewer's application for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits (DIB). Mr. Brewer brings this
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C.
§ 1383(c)(3), alleging various errors on the part of the
ALJ considering the matter. The Court, having reviewed the
record and for the reasons set forth herein will
DENY Mr. Brewer's Motion for Summary
Judgment [R. 15] and will
GRANT the Commissioner's [R.
Keith Wayne Brewer filed a Title II application for a period
of disability and DIB in April 2013, alleging disability
beginning on December 30, 2012. [Transcript (hereinafter,
“Tr.”) 45.] Mr. Brewer's motion for summary
judgment explains that Brewer suffers from, among other
things, neck pain that originated from a workplace injury and
degenerative discs at ¶ 4-C5, anxiety, chronic pain
syndrome, elevated blood pressure, cervical strain,
cervicalgia, central disc bulges at ¶ 3-C4, mild diffuse
bulging annulus with small posterior marginal osteophytosis,
hearing loss, and breathing difficulty resulting from his
previous work as a coal miner. [See R. 15.]
Brewer's claim for disability insurance benefits was
denied in June 2013, and again upon reconsideration in July,
2013. [Tr. 45.] Brewer then requested a hearing that was held
on January 14, 2015, before Administrative Law Judge Nicholas
Walter. [Id.] Following the hearing, the ALJ issued
a final decision denying Brewer's application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits. [Tr.
evaluating a claim of disability, an ALJ conducts a five-step
analysis. See 20 C.F.R. 404.1520. First, if a
claimant is performing a substantial gainful activity, he is
not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, if a
claimant does not have any impairment or combination of
impairments which significantly limit his physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities, then he does not have a
severe impairment and is not “disabled” as
defined by the regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c).
Third, if a claimant's impairments meet or equal one of
the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1, he is “disabled.” 20 C.F.R.
§404.1520(d). Before moving to the fourth step, the ALJ
must use all the relevant evidence in the record to determine
the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), which
is an assessment of one's ability to perform certain
physical and mental work activities on a sustained basis
despite any impairment experienced by the individual.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545. Fourth, the ALJ must determine whether the clamant
has the RFC to perform the requirements of his past relevant
work, and if a claimant's impairments do not prevent him
from doing past relevant work, he is not
“disabled.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). Fifth,
if a claimant's impairments (considering his RFC, age,
education, and past work) prevent him from doing other work
that exists in the national economy, then he is
“disabled.” § 404.1520(f).
outset of this case, the ALJ determined that Mr. Brewer meets
the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act
through December 31, 2016. [Tr. 47; see also 20
C.F.R. § 404.131.] Then, at step one, the ALJ found
Brewer had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
December 30, 2012, the alleged onset date. [R. 47.] There
were some earnings during the first quarter of 2013, but the
ALJ found that this was the result of an unsuccessful work
attempt. [R. 47.] At step two, the ALJ found Brewer to suffer
from severe impairments of degenerative cervical spine
conditions, pneumoconiosis, and hearing loss. [Tr. 47.] At
step three, the ALJ determined Brewer's combination of
impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404 Subpart P,
Appendix 1. [Tr.50.] Before moving on to step four, the ALJ
considered the entire record and determined Brewer possessed
the residual functional capacity to perform light work as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) with certain physical and
environmental limitations described as follows:
[N]o more than occasional climbing ramps/stairs,
pushing/pulling with the bilateral upper extremities,
stooping, kneeling or crouching; he can never perform work
involving overhead reaching, crawling, climbing ladders ropes
or scaffolds, vibration, and unprotected heights or workplace
hazards, extreme cold or hot temperatures, dust fumes, or
other pulmonary irritants, and no loud noise.
[Tr. 51.] After explaining how he determined Brewer's RFC
[Tr. 51-53], the ALJ found at step four that, based on this
RFC, Brewer is unable to perform any past relevant work. [Tr.
53.] After considering Mr. Brewer's RFC and the
additional environmental and postural limitations imposed by
the ALJ, the vocational expert testified that claimant could
perform unskilled light occupations “such as marker,
retail . . . textile checker . . . and office helper.”
[Tr. 54-55.] Jobs of this nature exist in significant numbers
in the national economy. [Tr. 55.] The ALJ accepted the
vocational expert's testimony and findings.
[Id.] Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Brewer
could successfully adjust to other work and that Brewer
“has not been under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, from December 30, 2012, through the date
of” his decision on February 9, 2015. [Tr. 55.] The
Appeals Council denied Brewer's request for review of the
ALJ's unfavorable decision. [Tr. 36.] Brewer now seeks
judicial review in this Court.
Court's review is generally limited to whether there is
substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's
decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Wright v.
Massanari, 321 F.3d 611, 614 (6th Cir. 2003);
Shelman v. Heckler, 821 F.2d 316, 319-20 (6th Cir.
1987). “Substantial evidence” is “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) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). The substantial evidence standard
“presupposes that there is a zone of choice within
which [administrative] decision makers can go either way,
without interference by the courts.” Mullen v.
Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (quoting
Baker v. Heckler, 730 F.2d 1147, 1150 (8th Cir.
determine whether substantial evidence exists, courts must
examine the record as a whole. Cutlip, 25 F.3d at
286 (citing Kirk v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 535 (6th Cir. 1981), cert.
denied, 461 U.S. 957 (1983)). However, a reviewing court
may not conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts
in the evidence, or make credibility determinations.
Ulman v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 693 F.3d 709, 713
(6th Cir. 2012); see also Bradley v. Sec'y of Health
& Human Servs., 862 F.2d 1224, 1228 (6th Cir. 1988).
Rather, if the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence, it must be affirmed even if the
reviewing court would decide the matter differently, and even
if substantial evidence also ...