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Riley v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

August 11, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT


          Dave Whalin, Magistrate Judge United States District Court

         The Commissioner of Social Security denied Reginald Riley's application for disability insurance benefits. Riley seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both Riley (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 13).


         Reginald Riley (“Riley”) is 48-years-old and lives with his wife in Radcliff, Kentucky. (Tr. 36, 49). Until 2009, Riley worked as an armored crewman for the U.S. Army at Fort Knox. (Tr. 36). Three years later, Riley completed his Bachelor's degree in Resource Management from Sullivan University with hopes of finding work that would be efficient for his medical conditions at that time. (Tr. 36-37, 64). Ultimately, Riley felt he was “unable to do anything . . . as far as any type of work, ” because he's in pain “pretty much all of the time.” (Tr. 64). Riley underwent left knee surgery in October of 2014 (Tr. 41) and has been wearing back-braces, knee-braces, and orthotic shoes for a number of years (Tr. 46, 50, 51). He has also participated in one-on-one counseling for ongoing depression since around 2010. (Tr. 47-48). Riley testified that he doesn't have any hobbies and doesn't do much socializing except with a few neighbors. (Tr. 58).

         Riley applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II claiming that he became disabled on August 9, 2014, as a result of short term memory loss, depression, foot pain, leg pain, knee pain, migraines, hip pain, and sleep apnea. (Tr. 192, 228). His application was denied initially (Tr. 98) and on reconsideration (Tr. 115). On May 12, 2016, Administrative Law Judge Candace A. McDaniel (“ALJ”) conducted a hearing in Louisville, Kentucky. (Tr. 31). Riley appeared in person and was represented by counsel. (Id.). Gail Franklin, an impartial vocational expert, also appeared at the hearing. (Id.). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on July 11, 2016. (Tr. 26).

         The ALJ 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, Riley did not engage in substantial activity during the period from his alleged onset date of August 9, 2014, through his date last insured of December 31, 2014. (Tr. 17). Second, Riley had the severe impairments of “obesity, osteoarthritis of the knees with right knee surgery, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, bilateral hallux valgus and degenerative joint disease of the great toes, bilateral peas planus with plantar fasciitis and spurs, and depression.” (Id.). Third, none of Riley'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.

         (Id.). Fourth, Riley had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work with the following limitations:

he needs to use a cane for ambulation and he must be allowed to alternate between a seated and standing position every 30 to 60 minutes taking 1 to 3 minutes to change positions without leaving the workstation. He may not climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds, or stairs, he may not kneel or crawl, but he may occasionally stoop, crouch, and climb ramps. He may not have concentrated exposure to vibrations, extremes of cold, heat, wetness, or humidity, or dust, fumes, gases, and other pulmonary irritants. He may not have any exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights or operation of moving machinery that cuts or grinds and that fails to stop with the loss of human contact. He can understand and remember simple and routine tasks and he can sustain attention and concentration for such tasks in 2 hour segments. He can interact appropriately with supervisors and coworkers but he can tolerate only occasional public interaction. He can tolerate routine changes in the work setting.

(Tr. 19-20). Additionally, Riley was unable to perform any past relevant work through his date last insured. (Tr. 24). Fifth and finally, considering Riley's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that he could have performed. (Tr. 25).

         Riley appealed the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 5-6) The Appeals Council declined review. (Tr. 1). At that point, the denial became the final decision of the Commissioner, and Riley appealed to this Court. (DN 1).

         Standard of Review

         When 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 her 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).


         A. Finding No. 5 Residual Functional Capacity

         Riley mounts three challenges to the ALJ's Finding No. 5, the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination. (DN 16-1, at pp. 12-20). The RFC finding is an Administrative Law Judge's ultimate determination of “the most a claimant can do” despite his physical and mental limitations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.945(a)(1), 416.946. The Administrative Law Judge bases the RFC finding on a review of the record as a whole, including a ...

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