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Colliver v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

July 7, 2017



          Edward B. Atkins United States Magistrate Judge


         Plaintiff, Gregory Dane Colliver, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1383(c)(3) and 405(g) of the Social Security Act, to challenge the Defendant Commissioner's final decision denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits. [R. 1; R. 11]. Upon consent of the parties, this matter has been referred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of final judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. [R. 14; R. 15]. Now ripe for decision on the parties cross-motions for judgment, and for the reasons set forth herein, the Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [R. 11] is DENIED, the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 13] is GRANTED, and Judgment will be entered affirming the final decision of the Defendant Commissioner.


         Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits (DIB), alleging disability beginning on December 9, 2013 due to chronic back pain. [Tr. 148].[1] Plaintiffs application was denied on March 5, 2014 and Plaintiff applied for reconsideration. [Tr. 92]. The application was again denied on reconsideration. [Tr. 95]. On May 30, 2014, Plaintiff requested an ALJ hearing. [Tr. 102]. On May 18, 2015, a hearing was held before ALJ Ronald M. Kayser. [Tr. 34]. Plaintiff testified, as did Vocational Expert Rob Crystal. [Tr. 34]. On June 8, 2015, ALJ Kayser issued an unfavorable decision. [Tr. 21].

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled from December 9, 2013, the alleged onset date (“AOD”), though the date of the decision. [Tr. 29]. At Step 1 of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 9, 2013. Id. At Step 2, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of obesity and lumbosacral spondylosis. Id. At Step 3, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1. The ALJ further found that the Plaintiff has the Residual Functional Capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c) except he can only frequently climb, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel and crawl; and cannot work around extreme cold, vibration, wetness, hazardous machinery or heights. [Tr. 27]. At Step 4, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as an automobile inspector and repairer because the work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity. [Tr. 29]. Lastly, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff has not been under a disability from his AOD through the date of the decision. Id.

         Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ decision [Tr. 17] but the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ decision the final agency decision. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the decision under 42 U.S.C. 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

         In his motion for judgment, Plaintiff asserts that the final agency decision is unsupported by substantial evidence due to the following errors: (1) the ALJ improperly analyzed the medical evidence and failed to assign the proper weight to the medical evidence of record; (2) the ALJ's residual functional capacity determination is not supported by substantial evidence; (3) the credibility determination was not supported by substantial evidence; (4) the ALJ posed an incomplete and incorrect hypothetical question to the vocational expert, thus relying on incomplete and erroneous testimony by the vocational expert. [R. 11 at 1].

         III. ANALYSIS

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a reviewing court “must affirm the Commissioner's conclusions absent a determination that the Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standard or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.” Longworth v. Comm'r Soc. Sec., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). “The substantial evidence standard is met if a reasonable mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to support a conclusion.” Longworth v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005). Also, the scope of judicial review is limited to the record itself, and the reviewing court “may not try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in evidence, nor decide questions of credibility.” Hogg v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 328, 331 (6th Cir. 1993) (citations omitted).

         The Court finds that the Commissioner applied the correct legal standard and that the Commissioner's findings of fact were supported by substantial evidence in the record. Accordingly, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED and Plaintiff's motion for judgment is DENIED.

         A. The ALJ's Finding That Plaintiff Had the Residual Functional Capacity for MediumWork Was Supported by Substantial Evidence

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's residual functional capacity (“RFC) finding was not supported by substantial evidence. [R. 10]. The RFC analyzes an individual's ability to do physical and mental work activities on a sustained basis despite any existing physical or mental impairments. Put another way, the RFC is “the most you can still do despite your limitations.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). In determining the RFC, the ALJ must consider all of the claimant's impairments, including those which are not severe. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1525; Maxey v. Colvin, No. CIV.A. 6:12-244-KKC, 2013 WL 3984536, at *2 (E.D. Ky. Aug. 2, 2013). Here, substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity for medium work.

         The ALJ provides an analysis of the medical evidence of record, which documented the Plaintiff's complaints and diagnosis of back pain. [Tr. 27-28]. The ALJ emphasized that doctors, including treating physician Dr. Troutt, routinely noted some lumbar tenderness but full strength throughout, a full range of motion in Plaintiff's cervical spine and shoulders, a normal gait, and normal sensation. [Tr. 28; see generally Tr. 254-61, 269-71, 280-99]. The ALJ also noted that Plaintiff's treatment was conservative in nature, and that Plaintiff did not engage in any physical therapy or surgery since the date he allegedly became disabled. [Tr. 28; Tr. 48-49]. See 20 C.F.R. § 401.1529(c)(3)(iv)-(v) (stating an ALJ must consider the type of treatment); Gronda v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 856 F.2d 36, 39 (6th Cir. 1988) (Commissioner properly compared a claimant's “subjective allegations of pain” with “his underlying condition.”). The ALJ further noted Plaintiff's own account that he has had back pain since 2010 but worked full time-performing medium exertion-until December of 2013. [Tr. 27; Tr. 254]. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(c)(3) (stating an ALJ must consider evidence about a claimant's prior work record). Finally, the ALJ underscores that Plaintiff can feed, dress, and bathe without difficulty and that he does sports photography on a part time basis, occasionally shops for groceries, checks progress on antiques on the internet for his wife, goes to church, and goes with his wife to watch their son play tennis for Georgetown College. [Tr. 28; Tr. 43-52]. See 20 C.F.R. ยง 404.1529(c)(3)(i) (stating an ALJ must consider a claimant's activities). After ...

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