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Sizemore v. Berryhill

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

August 8, 2017

KENNETH RAY SIZEMORE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          GREGORY F. VAN TATENHOVE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Kenneth Ray Sizemore seeks judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, which denied Sizemore's claim for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits. Sizemore brings this action pursuant to 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 Sizemore's Motion for Summary Judgment and GRANT the Commissioner's.

         I

         A

         Plaintiff Kenneth Ray Sizemore filed an application for Title II disability insurance benefits and Title XVI supplemental social security on September 9, 2013, alleging disability beginning on October 2, 2012 in both claims. [Transcript (hereinafter, “Tr.”) 17.] Sizemore's claims were initially denied by an Administrative Law Judge and then denied again upon reconsideration. [Id.] Subsequently, the ALJ conducted a hearing with Sizemore and counsel, and the ALJ issued a final decision ultimately denying both of Sizemore's claims for benefits. [See Tr. 17-27.]

         To evaluate a claim of disability for both Title II disability insurance benefit claims and Title XVI supplemental security income claims, an ALJ conducts a five-step analysis. Compare 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (disability insurance benefit claim) with 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 (supplemental security income claims).[1] 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, 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.” C.F.R. § 404.1530(d). Before moving on to the fourth step, the ALJ must use all of the relevant evidence in the record to determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), which assess an individual's ability to perform certain physical and metal 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 claimant 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.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).

         Through step four of the analysis, “the claimant bears the burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations caused by her impairments and the fact that she is precluded from performing her past relevant work.” Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to identify a significant number of jobs that accommodate the claimant's profile, but the claimant retains the ultimate burden of proving his lack of residual functional capacity. Id.; Jordan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 548 F.3d 417, 423 (6th Cir. 2008).

         At the outset of this case, the ALJ determined that Sizemore met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017. [Tr. 19]; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.131. Then at step one, the ALJ found Sizemore had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability onset date. [Tr. 20.] At step two, the ALJ found Sizemore to suffer from the following severe impairments: aortic aneurysm, back pain secondary to degenerative disc disease, lumbar spine; history of substance abuse; mood disorder; and borderline intellectual functioning. [Id.] At step three, the ALJ determined Sizemore's combination of impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404 or Part 416. [Tr. 22.] Before moving on to step four, the ALJ considered the record and determined that Sizemore possessed the following residual functioning capacity:

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of light work. The claimant can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently. He can stand/walk for 4 hours in an 8-hour workday and sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. The claimant is unable to climb ropes, ladders and scaffolds. He can occasionally climb ramps/stairs, balance, kneel, crouch, crawl, and stoop; avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and extreme heat, vibration and hazards. The claimant is able to understand and remember simple instructions, make judgments that are commensurate with the functions of unskilled work; respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers and work situations and deal with changes in a routine work setting.

[Tr. 23.] After explaining Sizemore's RFC, the ALJ found at step four that, based on this RFC, his age, education, and work experience, there are several jobs in the national economy that Sizemore can perform. [Tr. 26.] Accordingly, the ALJ found at step five that Mr. Sizemore is not disabled pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g). [Tr. 27.]

         Following the unfavorable decision, Sizemore timely appealed to the Appeals Council. However, the Appeals Council denied review on February 4, 2016, and Sizemore now seeks judicial review in this Court. [See, e.g., R. 8-10.]

         B

         The 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] ...


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