United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
WHALIN, MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Commissioner of Social Security denied Terry E. Ernst's
(“Ernst”) application for disability insurance
benefits. Ernst seeks judicial review of the
Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). Both Ernst, proceeding pro se, (DN 16) and
the Commissioner (DN 19) have filed a Fact and Law Summary.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the
parties have consented to the undersigned United States
Magistrate Judge conducting all further proceedings in this
case, including issuance of a memorandum opinion and entry of
judgment, with direct review by the Sixth Circuit Court of
Appeals in the event an appeal is filed. (DN 14).
Ernst is in his mid-fifties and lives in Cox Creek, Kentucky,
in a house with his wife and dog. (Tr. 77). Ernst previously
worked as a floor installer and at the parts counter at a
Harley Davidson dealership. (Tr. 108). Ernst states that he
suffers from lower back pain, arthritis, a stomach ulcer, and
gout. (Tr. 79-85). Because of his ailments, Ernst states he
has become “a hermit” and has a minimal quality
of life. (Tr. 93-94). In September of 2012, Ernst underwent a
micro discectomy, which he felt did not help his lower back
condition at all. (Tr. 79, 83, 99).
applied for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”)
under Title II, claiming that he became disabled on June 20,
2012, as a result of lower back pain and rheumatoid
arthritis. (Tr. 181, 221). His application was denied
initially and again on reconsideration. (Tr. 135, 145).
Administrative Law Judge William Zuber (“ALJ”)
conducted a hearing in Louisville, Kentucky, on February 4,
2014. (Tr. 72, 74). Ernst attended the hearing with his
attorney. (Id.). William Harpool, an impartial
vocational expert, also testified at the hearing.
(Id.). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on
June 13, 2014. (Tr. 42).
applied the traditional five-step sequential analysis
promulgated by the Commissioner, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520;
Kyle v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 609 F.3d 847, 855
(6th Cir. 2010) and found as follows. First, Ernst did not
engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from
his alleged onset date of June 20, 2012, through his date
last insured of September 30, 2012. (Tr. 34). Second, through
his date last insured, Ernst had the severe impairments of
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and
degenerative disc disease of the left ankle. (Id.).
Third, through the date last insured, none of Ernst's
impairments or combination of impairments met or medically
equaled the severity of a listed impairment from 20 C.F.R.
Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1. (Tr. 35). Fourth, through the
date last insured, Ernst had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work, except “he
should be permitted to alternate between sitting and standing
every 30 to 45 minutes. In addition, the claimant can never
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and only occasionally
climb ramps and stairs, stoop, crouch, crawl, and kneel. He
should avoid all exposure to vibration and hazards like
dangerous machinery and unprotected heights.” (Tr. 36).
Additionally, Ernst is unable to perform any past relevant
work. (Tr. 40). Fifth and finally, considering Ernst's
age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were jobs
that existed in the national economy that he could perform
through his date last insured. (Tr. 41).
appealed the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 27). The Appeals
Council declined review. (Tr. 1). At that point, the denial
became the final decision of the Commissioner, and Ernst
appealed to this Court. (DN 1).
Standard of Review
reviewing the Administrative Law Judge's decision to deny
disability benefits, the Court may “not try the case de
novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide
questions of credibility.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir.
1994) (citations omitted). Instead, the Court's review of
the Administrative Law Judge's decision is limited to an
inquiry as to whether the Administrative Law Judge's
findings were supported by substantial evidence, 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 353
(6th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted), and whether the
Administrative Law Judge employed the proper legal standards
in reaching his conclusion. See Landsaw v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th Cir.
1986). Substantial evidence exists “when a reasonable
mind could accept the evidence as adequate to support the
challenged conclusion, even if that evidence could support a
decision the other way.” Cotton v. Sullivan, 2
F.3d 692, 695 (6th Cir. 1993).
is proceeding pro se in this appeal. Pro se
documents are to be liberally construed, and Ernst's Fact
and Law Summary will be so construed. See Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S 89, 95, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081
(2007). After reviewing Ernst's Fact and Law Summary, it
appears he is advancing two arguments.
Finding No. 3: Ernst's Severe Impairments
Ernst states that he has been diagnosed with rheumatoid
arthritis, gout, fibromyalgia, a peptic ulcer, and
diverticulitis. (DN 16, at pp. 1, 3). The Commissioner
interprets Ernst's statements as to these diagnoses as
challenging the ALJ's step two determination that he
suffers from the severe impairments of degenerative disc