United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division
OPINION AND ORDER
K. CALDWELL, CHIEF JUDGE
matter is before the Court for consideration of cross-motions
for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Nancy Miniard and
Defendant Commissioner of Social Security. (DE 11 & 12).
Miniard brought this action under Section 405(g) of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain
judicial review of the final decision of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her claim
for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), as provided
under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act
(“the Act”). The Court, having reviewed the
record, will reverse the Commissioner's decision and
remand this matter for further proceedings consistent with
OVERVIEW OF THE PROCESS
determine whether a claimant has a compensable disability
under the Social Security Act, the administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) applies a five-step sequential process.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(1), (4); see also Miller v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 81 F.3d 825, 835 n.6 (6th Cir.
2016) (describing the five-step evaluation process). The five
steps, in summary, are:
Step 1: If the claimant is doing substantial gainful
activity, the claimant is not disabled.
Step 2: If the claimant does not have a severe
medically determinable physical or mental impairment-i.e., an
impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities-the claimant is
Step 3: If the claimant is not doing substantial
gainful activity and is suffering from a severe impairment
that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous
period of at least twelve months, and his or her impairment
meets or equals a listed impairment, the claimant is presumed
disabled without further inquiry.
Step 4: If the claimant's impairment does not
prevent him or her from doing his or her past relevant work,
the claimant is not disabled.
Step 5: If the claimant can make an adjustment to
other work, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant
cannot make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is
Sorrell v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 656 Fed.
App'x. 162, 169 (6th Cir. 2016) (citing Rabbers v.
Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 582 F.3d 647, 652 (6th Cir.
any step in the process, the ALJ concludes that the claimant
is or is not disabled, the ALJ can then complete the
“determination or decision and [the ALJ] do[es] not go
on to the next step.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).
In the first four steps of the process the claimant bears the
burden of proof. Sorrell, 656 Fed. App'x. at 169
(quoting Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. 336 F.3d
469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003)). If the claim proceeds to step
five, however, “the burden shifts to the Commissioner
to identify a significant number of jobs in the economy that
accommodate the claimant's residual functional capacity .
. . and vocational profile.” Id. (internal
citations omitted); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)(1).
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Miniard was born in 1962. (Administrative Record
(“AR”) 29). She graduated from high school and
completed four years of college, but did not obtain a
postsecondary degree. (AR 31). Miniard does have vocational
training in the fields of welding and pneumatics. (AR 31).
She has never been married, does not have children, and lives
alone with her dog in her family's farm house. (AR
30-31). Before she allegedly became disabled, Miniard worked
as a forklift driver, punch press operator, and a maintenance
repairer/helper. (AR 57). Her last date of reported work was
October 1st, 2001 (according to her hearing
testimony) or January 2002 (according to her SSI
application). (AR 32, 215).
applied for Disability Insurance Benefits and Social Security
Income on February 25, 2013, alleging that she became
disabled for over a decade prior to her filing, with an onset
date of June 1, 2004 (according to her SSI application) or
October 1, 2001 (according to her DIB application). (AR 192,
198). In her original benefits application, Miniard alleged
that she was unable to work due to a combination of a bulging
disc in her back, right should and leg pain, trouble
sleeping, and headaches. (AR 214). Miniard's application
was denied initially and on reconsideration (AR 86, 88, 112).
Miniard then filed a timely request for a hearing before an
ALJ. (AR 143-44).
Robert Bowling conducted a hearing in Hazard, Kentucky on
September 20, 2014. (AR 26). Miniard attended the hearing,
accompanied by her lawyer and testified on her own behalf.
Linda Koffler,  an impartial vocational expert, also
appeared and testified via telephone. (AR 26, 31). After the
hearing and reviewing Miniard's claims de novo,
the ALJ entered a written decision denying benefits on
December 17, 2014. (AR 11-21). That decision is the subject
of this appeal.
The Administrative Decision
applied the traditional five-step sequential analysis
promulgated by the Commissioner, see 20 C.F.R §
404.1520, and found that Miniard's claim failed at step
five. At step one, the ALJ found that Miniard had not engaged
in substantial gainful activity since October 1, 2001, the
earlier of her alleged disability onset date. (AR 13). At
step two, the ALJ found that Miniard suffered from several
severe impairments: (1) disorders of the joints; (2)
disorders of the spine; (3) affective disorders; and (4)
anxiety disorders. (AR 14).
three, the ALJ found that Miniard's severe impairments
did not meet and were not medically equal in severity to one
of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. The ALJ found that Miniard's joint and spine
disorders did not meet listing 1.02 or 1.04 because the
record did not contain evidence of “nerve root
compression characterized by motor loss . . .
pseudoclaudication, inability to ambulate effectively, or
inability to perform fine and gross movements.” (AR
14); see 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpart. P, App. 1
§ 1.00 (2012). The ALJ also found that Miniard's
mental impairments did not meet listing 12.04 or 12.06
because she only experienced moderate restrictions in daily
living, social functioning, and maintaining concentration,
persistence, and pace, and she had no episodes of
decompensation-meaning periods of exacerbated symptoms. (AR
14-15); see 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpart. P, App. 1
reaching step four, the ALJ determined Miniard's residual
functional capacity (RFC). The ALJ found that Miniard
retained, based on all of her impairments, the RFC:
to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) but can stand and walk for only 6 hours total in
an 8-hour workday; claimant can sit for only 6 hours total in
an 8-hour workday; claimant requires a sit or stand option on
a 30 minute basis; claimant can only occasionally push or
pull with the right upper extremity claimant can never climb
ladders, ropes and scaffolds; claimant can only occasionally
stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; claimant can only
occasionally reach overhead with the right upper extremity;
claimant can only frequently handle, that is, gross
manipulation with the right hand; claimant should avoid
concentrated exposure to unprotected heights and the use of
moving machinery; work is limited to simple, routine and
repetitive tasks performed in a work environment free of fast
paced production requirements involving only simple,
work-related decisions and with few, if any, work place
changes; and claimant should have only occasional interaction
with the general public, only occasional interaction with
co-workers and only occasional supervision.
(AR 15). Moving to step four, the ALJ, based on the
vocational expert's testimony, found Miniard was unable
to perform any of ...