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Reardon v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division

February 22, 2018

GORDON A. REARDON 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 Gordon A. Rearden (“Plaintiff”) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN 12) and Defendant (DN 18) have filed a Fact and Law Summary. For the reasons that follow, judgment is granted for the Commissioner.

         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 10). By Order entered July 7, 2017 (DN 11), 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 Disability Insurance benefits on March 22, 2013 (Tr. 25-56). Plaintiff alleged that he became disabled on August 30, 2012, as a result of back problems and related surgeries, high cholesterol, heart problems nerve pain, and neuropathy (Tr. 25, 280). Administrative Law Judge Emilie Kraft (“ALJ”) conducted a video hearing from Paducah, Kentucky on March 11, 2015 (Tr. 76-114). Plaintiff and her attorney, Sara Martin, participated from Owensboro, Kentucky (Id.). James B. Adams testified as an impartial vocational expert during the hearing (Id.). The ALJ conducted a supplemental video hearing from Paducah, Kentucky on October 8, 2015 (Tr. 41-75). Plaintiff and her attorney, Sara Martin, participated from Owensboro, Kentucky (Id.). Stephanie Barnes, Rh.D., testified as an impartial vocational expert during the supplemental hearing (Id.).

         The ALJ issued a decision dated December 30, 2015 (Tr. 14-40). She evaluated Plaintiff's adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Id.).

         At the first step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of August 30, 2012 (Tr. 16, Finding No. 2). More specifically, the ALJ concluded because Plaintiff engaged in substantial gainful activity from May 9, 2014 through January 20, 2015, he cannot be found disabled during that period of time (Tr. 16-17).

         At the second step, the ALJ determined since the alleged onset date of disability, August 30, 2012, Plaintiff “has had the following severe impairments: cervical degenerative disc disease; lumbar degenerative disc disease; status post spinal fusion at ¶ 4-L5; artherosclerotic heart disease; status post stent placement; depression; history of knee surgeries; and obesity” (Tr. 17, Finding No. 3). The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff's moderate obstructive sleep apnea is a “non-severe” impairment (Id.). At the third step, the ALJ concluded since the alleged onset of disability, August 30, 2012, Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1 (Tr. 17-18, Finding No. 4).

         At the fourth step, the ALJ made the following findings:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that since August 30, 2012, the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) (i.e., Lifting and/or carrying 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently, standing and/or walking (with normal breaks) for a total of about 2 hours in an 8-hour workday, sitting (with normal breaks) for a total of about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, and pushing and/or pulling consistent with lifting and/or carrying) except he can frequently, reach, handle, finger and feel. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. He can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. He can have no exposure to unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts, or operation of a motor vehicle. He can have exposure to humidity/witness, extreme cold, extreme heat, and vibration. He can frequently push and/or pull with bilateral upper extremities. He needs to sit, stand or change positions approximately every hour. He is limited to performing simple, routine tasks.

(Tr. 19, Finding No. 5). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ found since August 30, 2012, Plaintiff has been unable to perform any past relevant work (Tr. 30, Finding No. 6).

         At the fifth step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was a younger individual (age 45-49) from August 30, 2012 through September 30, 2014 (Tr. 30, Finding No. 7). The ALJ concluded that on October 1, 2014, Plaintiff became an individual closely approaching advanced age (age 50-54) (Id.). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had at least a high school education and was able to communicate in English (Id., Finding No. 8).

         The ALJ considered Plaintiffs residual functional capacity, age, education, past work experience[1], and the vocational expert's testimony (Tr. 30-31). The ALJ found that prior to May 9, 2014, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could have performed (Tr. 30-31, Finding No. 10). The ALJ noted that from May 9, 2014 through January 20, 2015, Plaintiff engaged in substantial gainful activity (Id., Finding No. 11). The ALJ found that beginning January 21, 2015, there were no jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform (Tr. 31, Finding No. 12). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled prior to January 21, 2015, but became disabled on that date and has continued to be disabled through the date of the decision (Tr. 32, Finding No. 13).

         Plaintiff timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 8-9). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-4).

         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 Asubstantial 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. 1-4). 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. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990).

         The Commissioner has promulgated regulations setting forth a five-step sequential evaluation process for evaluating a disability claim. See “Evaluation of disability in general, ” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. In summary, the evaluation proceeds as follows:

1) Is the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity?
2) Does the claimant have a medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments that satisfies the duration requirement and significantly limits his or her ability to do basic work activities?
3) Does the claimant have an impairment that meets or medically equals the criteria of a listed impairment within Appendix 1?
4) Does the claimant have the residual functional capacity to return to his or her ...

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