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Halcomb v. Berryhill

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

January 11, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT



         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 and the parties' dispositive motions, and for the reasons set forth herein, will affirm the Commissioner's decision.


         On January 22, 2014, Plaintiff Carl Eugene Halcomb applied for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI), alleging disability beginning on December 6, 2012. (Tr. 198-202; 203-212). Plaintiff's application was denied initially, and again on reconsideration. (Tr. 84-101; 106-125). At Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was conducted on November 12, 2015, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Peter Jung. (Tr. 55-82). On December 15, 2015, ALJ Jung ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 38-49). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on December 13, 2016, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-7).

         Plaintiff filed the instant action on February 16, 2017, alleging the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence, contrary to law, and applied the incorrect standards. (Doc. # 3). The matter has culminated in cross-motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for adjudication. (Docs. # 12 and 14).


         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 Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 729 (6th Cir. 2007). “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.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). 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, as long as it is supported by substantial evidence, even if the Court might have decided the case differently. 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 & 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).

         To determine disability, the ALJ conducts a five-step analysis. Step One considers whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity; Step Two, whether any of the claimant's impairments, alone or in combination, 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 a significant number of other jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can perform. The burden of proof rests with the claimant on Steps One through Four. As to the last step, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to identify “jobs in the economy that accommodate [Plaintiff's] residual functional capacity.” See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003); see also 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 the Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 6, 2012, the alleged onset date of disability. (Tr. 40). At Step Two, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: gouty arthritis; lumbar impairment with pain; and osteoarthritis of the knees, left shoulder, and left elbow. Id. The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's alleged anxiety and depression were non-severe impairments because they did not cause “more than minimal limitation in [his] ability to perform basic mental work activities.” Id. At Step Three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 41).

         At Step Four, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff possesses the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform work at the light exertional level, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), with the following, additional limitations:

[L]ifting and carrying ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally; pushing/pulling limited to less than [twenty] pounds with left upper extremity; stand and walk six hours in an eight hour workday, and sit six hours in an eight hour workday; occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ropes, ladders or scaffolds, and occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; frequently reach overhead, laterally, or in front with his left upper extremity; avoid frequent exposure to extreme cold, wetness, vibration, dust, odors, fumes, poor ventilation, or gases; avoid all exposure to heights, machinery and hazards.

(Tr. 41-42). Based on this RFC and relying on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work as a heavy-equipment operator and plant operator. (Tr. 47). Thus, the ALJ proceeded to Step Five, where he determined that there were other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that the Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 48-49). Accordingly, ...

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