United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division
GORDON A. REARDON PLAINTIFF
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Brent Brennenstuhl, United States Magistrate Judge.
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.
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.
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.).
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.).
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.
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).
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,
(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).
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).
considered Plaintiffs residual functional capacity, age,
education, past work experience, 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).
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.
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)).
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
Commissioner's Sequential Evaluation Process
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).
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
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
4) Does the claimant have the residual functional capacity to
return to his or her ...