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Taylor v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Covington

January 18, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration 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 May 22, 2009, Plaintiff King Taylor applied for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI), alleging disability beginning May 2, 2009. (Tr. 198-202; 203-212). (Tr. 276). On June 15, 2011, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) John M. Prince issued a fully favorable decision and awarded Plaintiff DIB and SSI benefits. Id. Because medical improvement was “expected with appropriate treatment given the claimant's youth, ” ALJ Prince recommended that a continuing disability review be conducted twelve months after his decision. Id.

         On March 29, 2013, it was determined that the Plaintiff was no longer disabled. (Tr. 160; Tr. 277-278). That determination was upheld upon reconsideration after a disability hearing by a State Agency Disability Hearing Officer. (Tr. 289-305). At Plaintiff's request, a further administrative hearing was conducted on October 27, 2015, before ALJ Anne Shaughnessy. (Tr. 243-266). On January 8, 2016, ALJ Shaughnessy ruled that Plaintiff's disability had ended and that he was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 160-173). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on April 4, 2017, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review.[1] (Tr. 1-8).

         Plaintiff filed the instant pro se action on March 14, 2017, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision to terminate his DIB and SSI benefits. (Doc. # 2). The matter has culminated in cross-motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for adjudication. (Docs. # 13 and 15).

         Plaintiff has also filed a Motion for Extension of Time for Filing Additional Evidence. (Doc. # 16). Plaintiff's Motion requests that the Court consider additional “exhibits of evidence.” Id. The Motion must be denied for two reasons. First, and most importantly, the Court's review is limited to the certified administrative record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Salyer v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 574 Fed.Appx. 595, 597 (6th Cir. 2014). Second, an examination of the fifty-three pages Plaintiff attached to his Motion reveal that these documents are not “evidence” and are wholly unrelated to the issues in this social-security appeal. (Doc. # 16-1). Plaintiff, apparently attempting to use this social-security appeal as a vehicle for all legal injuries he has allegedly suffered, complains of food poisoning he contracted from several fast-food restaurants, car troubles and a dispute with the auto-mechanic company, and a defective cell phone that was lost in the mail. Id. The fifty- three pages of exhibits are merely receipts and a record of these various complaints. Id. Because the “additional evidence” Plaintiff requests leave to submit is not part of the certified administrative record and is wholly unrelated to this case, the Court declines to consider it. Therefore, Plaintiff's Motion for Extension of Time for Filing Additional Evidence (Doc. # 16) is denied.


         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).

         B. Continuation of Benefits

         The Commissioner's decision to award disability benefits does not end the inquiry into a recipient's entitlement to benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 423(f). Rather, a recipient's “continued entitlement to such benefits must be reviewed periodically.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.994(a).

         “When the cessation of benefits is at issue, as here, the central question is whether the claimant's medical impairments have improved to the point where [he] is able to perform substantial gainful activity.” Kennedy v. Astrue, 247 Fed.Appx. 761, 764 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(f)(1)). “Improvement is measured from ‘the most recent favorable decision' that the claimant was disabled, ” that date is known as the “comparison point decision.” Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.994(b)(1)(i)). “There is no presumption of continuing disability.” Id. (citing Cutlip, 25 F.3d at 286-87 n.1). “Instead, the Commissioner applies the procedures that are outlined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1594 and 416.994 to determine whether a claimant's disability has ended and that [he] is now able to work.” Id.

         To determine if the claimant continues to be disabled, the ALJ employs an eight-step sequential analysis for Title II claims and a seven-step analysis for Title XVI claims. The analysis for Title II claims includes an additional, threshold consideration of the claimant's performance of substantial gainful activity; otherwise, the Title II and Title XVI analyses are the same. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1594(f)(1)l; 416.994(b)(5). Put another way, Steps Two through Eight in Title II claims mirror Steps One through Seven in Title XVI claims.

         At Step One for Title II claims, the ALJ examines whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. If the answer is yes, the claimant is no longer disabled. At Step Two for Title II claims and Step One for Title XVI claims, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments which meets or medically equals the criteria of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. If the claimant does, his disability continues and the analysis ends. If not, the analysis continues.

         The next steps focus on medical improvement-the critical question for continuation of benefits. At Step Three for Title II claims and Step Two for Title XVI claims, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has experienced medical improvement. Step Four for Title II claims and Step Three for Title XVI claims requires the ALJ to determine whether any medical improvement is related to the claimant's ability to work. If there has not been medical improvement or if the medical improvement is not related to the individual's ability to perform work, the ALJ must continue to Step Five for Title II claims and Step Four for Title XVI claims, which considers whether any exceptions to the medical-improvement standard apply.

         If there has been medical improvement related to the claimant's ability to work or an exception to the medical-improvement standard applies, the remainder of the ALJ's continuing-disability analysis parallels the initial-disability analysis. At Step Six for Title II claims and Step Five for Title XVI claims, the ALJ must determine whether all of the claimant's current impairments are severe. At Step Seven for Title II claims and Step Six for Title XVI claims, the ALJ assesses the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) based on his current impairments and determines if he can perform past relevant work. If the claimant cannot perform his past relevant work, the ALJ proceeds to the last step and determines whether a significant number of other jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can perform. If the claimant can perform other work, he is no longer disabled. If he cannot, his disability continues.

         The burden of proving disability rests with the claimant. As to the final step, however, a limited burden shifts to the Social Security Administration. To support a finding that a claimant's disability has ended, the Commissioner is responsible for providing evidence that demonstrates that other work exists in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can do, given his RFC, age, education, and work experience.

         C. The ALJ's Determination

         At Step One, [2] the ALJ found that the Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 29, 2013, the date the prior disability ended. (Tr. 162). At Step Two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff currently has the following medically determinable impairments: history of left shoulder surgery; degenerative disc disease; residual pain status post left second toe injury; post-traumatic stress disorder; and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Id. The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's alleged migraine headaches, cysts, and asthma were non-severe impairments because they resulted “in no more than minimal limitations on his ability to engage in work activity.”[3] (Tr. 163). Therefore, the ALJ concluded ...

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