United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
R. WILHOIT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
has brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g) to
challenge a final decision of the Defendant denying
Plaintiffs application for disability insurance benefits. The
Court having reviewed the record in this case and the
dispositive motions filed by the parties, and being otherwise
sufficiently advised, for the reasons set forth herein, finds
that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge is
supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
filed her current application for disability insurance
benefits in June 2013, alleging disability beginning in
September 2011, due to "asthma, incontinence, flailed
chest/rib, knee pain, impaired vision in the left eye [and]
depression" (Tr. 188). This application was denied
initially and on reconsideration. Thereafter, upon request by
Plaintiff, an administrative hearing was conducted by
Administrative Law Judge Jonathon Stanley (hereinafter
"ALJ"), wherein Plaintiff, accompanied by counsel,
testified. At the hearing, Robert Piper, a vocational expert
(hereinafter "VE"), also testified.
hearing, pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.920, the ALJ
performed the following five-step sequential analysis in
order to determine whether the Plaintiff was disabled:
Step 1: If the claimant is performing substantial gainful
work, he is not disabled.
Step 2: If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful
work, his impairments) must be severe before he can be found
to be disabled based upon the requirements in 20 C.F.R.
Step 3: If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful
work and has a severe impairment (or impairments) that has
lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at
least twelve months, and his impairments (or impairments)
meets or medically equals a listed impairment contained in
Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4, the claimant is
disabled without further inquiry.
Step 4: If the claimant's impairment (or impairments)
does not prevent him from doing his past relevant work, he is
Step 5: Even if the claimant's impairment or impairments
prevent him from performing his past relevant work, if other
work exists in significant numbers in the national economy
that accommodates his residual functional capacity and
vocational factors, he is not disabled.
issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled
Plaintiff was 56 years old at the time of the alleged onset
of disability. She has a Master's degree in counseling
and past relevant work as a counselor and educational program
director at Eastern Kentucky University (Tr. 189).
1 of the sequential analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the
alleged onset date of disability (Tr. 21).
then determined, at Step 2, that Plaintiff suffers from
obesity; degenerative joint disease of the knees; left ankle
and foot pain; asthma; and a variety of eye-related
impairments, including choroidal neovascularization (abnormal
blood vessel growth), progressive degenerative myopia, and
cataracts, which he found to be "severe" within the
meaning of the Regulations (Tr. 22).
3, the ALJ found that Plaintiffs impairments did not meet or
medically equal any of the listed impairments (Tr. 25). In
doing so, the ALJ specifically considered Listing 1.00 (Tr.
further found that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant
work (Tr. 27) and also determined that she has the residual
functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work
with the following restrictions: occasional pushing and
pulling using the lower extremities bilaterally; occasional
climbing of stairs and ramps, but never of ropes, ladders, or
scaffolds; occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling,
crouching, and crawling; frequent reaching overhead
bilaterally; frequent reading of computer screens and fine
print and handling of small objects; no concentrated exposure
to temperature extremes, pulmonary irritants, or vibration;
and ability to avoid ordinary hazards in the workplace, but
no work at unprotected heights or around hazards such as
heavy equipment. (Tr. 25).
the ALJ found Plaintiff not to be disabled.
Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review and
adopted the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the
Commissioner . Plaintiff thereafter filed this civil action
seeking a reversal of the Commissioner's decision. Both
parties have filed Motions for Summary Judgment and this
matter is ripe for decision.
Standard of Review
essential issue on appeal to this Court is whether the
ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence.
"Substantial evidence" is defined as "such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion;" it is based on the
record as a whole and must take into account whatever in the
record fairly detracts from its weight. Garner v.
Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984).
If the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence, the reviewing Court must affirm.
Kirk v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 461
F.2d 524, 535 (6th Cir. 1981), cert,
denied, 461 U.S. 957 (1983). "The court may not try
the case de novo nor resolve conflicts in evidence,
nor decide questions of credibility." Bradley v.
Secretary of Health and Human Services, 862 F.2d 1224,
1228 (6th Cir. 1988). Finally, this Court must
defer to the Commissioner's decision "even if there
is substantial evidence in the record that would have
supported an opposite conclusion, so long as substantial
evidence supports the conclusion reached by the ALJ."
Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997).
Plaintiffs Contentions on Appeal
contends that the ALJ's finding of no disability is
erroneous because: (1) Plaintiff satisfies the criteria for
presumptive disability at Step 3 and (2) the ALJ improperly
discounted the opinion of Plaintiff s treating
ophthalmologist, Andrew Moshfeghi.
Analysis of Contentions on Appeal
first claim of error is that Plaintiff satisfies the criteria
for presumptive disability at Step 3.
Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals stated in Her v.
Commissioner of Social Security, 203 F.3d 388, 391
(6th Cir. 1999), "the burden of proof lies
with the claimant at steps one through four of the
[sequential disability benefits analysis], " including
proving presumptive disability by meeting or exceeding a
Medical Listing at step three. Thus, Plaintiff "bears
the burden of proof at step three to demonstrate that she has
or equals an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart
P, appendix 1." Arnold v. Commissioner of Social
Security, 238 F.3d 419, 2000 WL 1909386, *2
(6th Cir. 2000 (Ky)), citing Burgess v.
Secretary of Health and Human Services, 964 F.2d 524,
528 (6th Cir. 1992). If the Plaintiff "can
show an impairment is listed in Appendix 1 ("the
listings"), or is equal to a listed impairment, the ALJ
must find the claimant disabled." Buress v.
Secretary of Health and Human Services, 835 F.2d 139,
140 (6th Cir. 1987).
listing of impairments 'provides descriptions of
disabling conditions and the elements necessary to meet the
definition of disabled for each impairment."
Arnold, at **2, quoting Maloney v.
Commissioner, 211 F.3d 1269, 2000 WL 420700
(6th Cir. 2000). In order for the Plaintiff
"to qualify as disabled under a listed impairment, the
claimant must meet all the requirements specified in the
Listing." Id. As the Defendant notes, this must
be done by presenting specific medical findings that satisfy
the particular Listing. Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S.
521, 530-532, (1990). An impairment that manifests only some
of the criteria in a particular Listing, "no matter how
severely, does not qualify." Sullivan, at 530.
claims that her severe impairments establish that she meets
the requirements for the Listings and that failed to consider