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Creech v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, Pikeville

December 13, 2017

DAVID NELSON CREECH PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          David L. Bunning, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Court, having reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner's decision, as it is supported by substantial evidence.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 18, 2014, Plaintiff David Nelson Creech filed an application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), alleging disability beginning on March 6, 2014. (Tr. 172-75). Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that he was limited in his ability to work due to the following: bone deterioration disease in his back, degenerative disc disease, arthritis in both hands, “HBP”, and asthma. (Tr. 191).

         Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 60-75, 78-93). At Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was conducted on August 1, 2016, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Roger L. Reynolds. (Tr. 34-59). On June 23, 2015, ALJ Reynolds ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 11-26). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on January 27, 2017. (Tr. 1-5).

         On March 27, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant action. (Doc. # 1). This matter has culminated in cross-motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for the Court's review. (Docs. # 14 and 17).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Overview of the Process

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is restricted to determining whether it is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards. See Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). “Substantial evidence” is defined as “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.” Id. Courts are not to conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or make credibility determinations. Id. Rather, the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision, provided it is supported by substantial evidence, even if the Court might have decided the case differently. See Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999). If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's findings must be affirmed, even if there is evidence favoring Plaintiff's side. Listenbee v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 846 F.2d 345, 349 (6th Cir. 1988). Similarly, an administrative decision is not subject to reversal merely because substantial evidence would have supported the opposite conclusion. Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 780, 781-82 (6th Cir. 1996).

         The ALJ, in determining disability, conducts a five-step analysis. Step One considers whether the claimant is still performing substantial gainful activity; Step Two, whether any of the claimant's impairments are “severe”; Step Three, whether the impairments meet or equal a listing in the Listing of Impairments; Step Four, whether the claimant can still perform his past relevant work; and Step Five, whether significant numbers of other jobs exist in the national economy which the claimant can perform. As to the last step, the burden of proof shifts from the claimant to the Commissioner. See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003); Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).

         B. The ALJ's Determination

         At Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from his amended alleged onset date, March 6, 2014, through his date last insured. (Tr. 16). At Step Two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: obesity; chronic low back pain with left leg radiculopathy secondary to degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, with disc herniations at the L4-5 and L5-S1 levels; asthma/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease with continued nicotine abuse; osteoporosis and scoliosis of the thoracic spine; hypertension; anxiety NOS (not otherwise specified); and depression NOS (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)). (Tr. 16). At Step Three, the ALJ considered Listings 1.04, 3.02, 30.0, 12.04 and 12.06, and concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that “meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1." (Tr. 22).

         At Step Four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a reduced range of sedentary work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a), with the exertional and non-exertional limitations as follows:

He can lift and carry ten pounds occasionally and five pounds frequently. The claimant can stand or walk two hours in an eight-hour workday. He can sit six hours in an eight-hour workday. He cannot climb ropes, ladders or scaffolds, but he can occasionally climb stairs or ramps. The claimant can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl. He cannot perform aerobic activities such as running or jumping. He should avoid work with hands over the head. The claimant cannot operate foot pedal controls. He should avoid exposure to concentrated dusts, gases, smoke, fumes, temperature extremes, excess humidity, concentrated vibration or industrial hazards. The claimant requires entry-level work with simple repetitive procedures. He can tolerate only ...

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