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Pepper v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

January 24, 2018

JAMES R. PEPPER PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM, OPINION, AND ORDER

          H. Brent Brennenstuhl United States Magistrate Judge

         BACKGROUND

         Before the Court is the complaint (DN 1) of Plaintiff James R. Pepper seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN 13) and Defendant (DN 17) have filed a Fact and Law Summary.

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties have consented to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge conducting all further proceedings in this case, including issuance of a memorandum opinion and entry of judgment, with direct review by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the event an appeal is filed (DN 11). By Order entered July 5, 2017 (DN 12), the parties were notified that oral arguments would not be held unless a written request therefor was filed and granted. No such request was filed.

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits on March 11, 2014 (Tr. 224-38). Plaintiff alleged that he became disabled on February 18, 2011 (Tr. 224) as a result of diabetes, high blood pressure, blurred vision, weakness in legs, degenerative disc disease, and "arthritis in back, nerves" (Tr. 252). Administrative Law Judge Ronald Kayser (“ALJ”) conducted a hearing on June 14, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. Plaintiff was present and represented by Gail M. Wilson. Also present and testifying was vocational expert Martha Goss.

         In a decision dated July 29, 2016, the ALJ evaluated this adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 38-53). At the first step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 18, 2011, the alleged onset date (Tr. 44). At the second step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has no “severe” impairments within the meaning of the regulations (Tr. 44). As a result, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a “disability, ” as defined in the Social Security Act, from February 18, 2011 through the date of the decision (Tr. 47).

         Plaintiff timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 34). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1).

         CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         Standard of Review Review by the Court is limited to determining whether the findings set forth in the final decision of the Commissioner are supported by “substantial evidence, ” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Cotton v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 692, 695 (6th Cir. 1993); Wyatt v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 974 F.2d 680, 683 (6th Cir. 1992), and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Landsaw v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th Cir. 1986). “Substantial evidence exists when a reasonable mind could accept the evidence as adequate to support the challenged conclusion, even if that evidence could support a decision the other way.” Cotton, 2 F.3d at 695 (quoting Casey v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993)). In reviewing a case for substantial evidence, the Court “may not try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in evidence, nor decide questions of credibility.” Cohen v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 964 F.2d 524, 528 (6th Cir. 1992) (quoting Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984)).

         As previously mentioned, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1). At that point, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955(b), 404.981, 422.210(a); see 42 U.S.C. § 405(h) (finality of the Commissioner's decision). Thus, the Court will be reviewing the decision of the ALJ, not the Appeals Council, and the evidence that was in the administrative record when the ALJ rendered the decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); 20 C.F.R. § 404.981; Cline v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 96 F.3d 146, 148 (6th Cir. 1996); Cotton v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 692, 695-696 (6th Cir. 1993).

         The Commissioner's Sequential Evaluation Process The Social Security Act authorizes payment of Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income to persons with disabilities. 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. (Title II Disability Insurance Benefits), 1381 et seq. (Title XVI Supplemental Security Income). The term “disability” is defined as an

[I]nability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve (12) months.

42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) (Title II), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (Title XVI); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a); Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 214 (2002); Abbott v. ...


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