United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
Gregory F. Van Tatenhove United States District Judge
Briscoe seeks judicial review of an administrative decision
of the Commissioner of Social Security, which denied
Briscoe's application for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the
Social Security Act. [R. 1.] Mr. Briscoe brings this action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) and 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), 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.
Briscoe's Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 10] and will
GRANT the Commissioner's [R. 13.]
Richard Briscoe filed a Title II application for a period of
disability and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) alleging disability beginning March 4,
2013. [Transcript (hereinafter, “Tr.”) 16.] Mr.
Briscoe's motion for summary judgment explains that
Briscoe suffers from, among other things, severe back pain, a
cartilage tear in his right knee, disc extrusion at ¶
5-S1, left hip locking sensation and radiation of back pain
to the leg and hip, sporadic falling in part because his left
leg “give[s] out, ” and obesity. [R. 10-1 at
2-5.] Briscoe's claim for a period of disability and DIB
was denied on August 5, 2013, and upon reconsideration on
October 14, 2013. [Tr. 16.] Briscoe then requested a hearing
that was held in January 2015 before Administrative Law Judge
Robert B. Bowling. [Id.] Following the hearing, the
ALJ issued a final decision denying Briscoe's application
for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits.
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. Briscoe met
the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act
through December 31, 2018. [Tr. 18.] Then, at step one, the
ALJ found Briscoe had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since March 4, 2013, the alleged onset date. [Tr.
18.] The claimant did receive pay after the alleged onset
date but these earnings were for vacation pay and not for
labor or services provided by Briscoe. [Id.] At step
two, the ALJ found that Briscoe suffered from severe
impairments of “disorders of the spine and joints and
obesity.” [Tr. 18; see also 20 CFR
404.1520(c).] At step three, the ALJ determined Briscoe'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. 19.] Before moving onto step
four, the ALJ considered the entire record and determined
Briscoe 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
[H]e can stand and walk for only two hours total in an eight
hour workday; can sit for only six hours total in an eight
hour workday; would require a sit or stand option on a 30
minute basis; can only occasionally push and pull with the
bilateral lower extremities; can only occasionally operate
foot controls with the bilateral lower extremities; can never
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can only occasionally
climb ramps or stairs; can only occasionally stoop, kneel,
crouch, and craw; should avoid concentrated exposure to
extreme colds, wetness, or humidity; should avoid even
moderate exposure to vibration; and should avoid all exposure
to the use of moving machinery and unprotected heights.
explaining how he determined Briscoe's RFC [Tr. 20-27],
the ALJ found at step four that, based on this RFC, Briscoe
is unable to perform any past relevant work. [Tr. 27.] A
vocational expert considered Mr. Briscoe's RFC and the
additional environmental and postural limitations imposed by
the ALJ, and testified that claimant could perform
“occupations at the sedentary level of exertion.”
[Tr. 28.] The ALJ found that jobs “exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that the claimant can
perform” after the vocational expert identified
qualifying jobs such as “production helper . . .
information clerk . . . and call-out operator.”
[Id.] Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Mr.
Briscoe is “not disabled” and that he had not
been “under a disability, as defined in the Social
Security Act, from March 4, 2013, through the date of this
decision.” [Tr. 29.] The Appeals Council denied
Briscoe's request for review of the ALJ's unfavorable
decision. [Tr. 1] Briscoe now seeks judicial review in this
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 ...