United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
DANIEL E. GUM, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
E. Wier, United States Magistrate Judge.
Gum appeals the Commissioner's denial of his application
for Disability Insurance Benefits. The parties filed dueling
dispositive motions. The Court GRANTS the
Commissioner's motion for summary judgment (DE #18) and
DENIES Gum's motion for judgment on the
pleadings (DE #15) because substantial evidence supports the
findings resulting in the administrative decision, and the
decision rests on proper legal standards.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
currently 53 years old. See, e.g., R. at 321
(indicating date of birth of 3/2/1965). He alleges disability
beginning on (as amended) November 14, 2014. See R.
at 14, 44-45, 148-49. Gum applied for benefits on June 13,
2014. R. at 148-49. His claims were initially denied on
September 2, 2014, see R. at 85-88, and upon
reconsideration on November 20, 2014. See R. at
90-92. Gum then filed a written request for a hearing on
December 8, 2014. R. at 97-98. Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Don C. Paris held a video hearing on the
application on March 15, 2016. R. at 31-59. At the hearing,
Gum testified; attorney Jason K. Baril represented him. R. at
14, 83-84. An impartial vocational expert (VE) also testified.
R. at 49-58. The ALJ subsequently denied Gum's claims on
April 19, 2016. R. at 14-24. The Appeals Council denied
review and thus upheld the ALJ's decision on July 7,
2017. R. at 1-3.
made several particular findings in the required sequence. He
determined that Gum did not engage in substantial gainful
activity from November 14, 2014, the amended alleged onset
date, through April 19, 2016, the date of decision. R. at 16.
The ALJ next determined that Gum has two severe impairments.
Id. However, ALJ Paris then found that Gum did
“not have an impairment or combination of impairments
that [met] or medically equal[ed] the severity of one of the
listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1[.]” R. at 18. The ALJ further made a detailed
residual functional capacity (RFC) finding. R. at 18-22.
Although ALJ Paris found Gum “unable to perform any
past relevant work, ” the ALJ determined that
“there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in
the national economy that [Gum] can perform[.]” R. at
22-23. Based on all these considerations, the ALJ ruled that
Gum was not “under a disability . . . from . . .
November 14, 2014, through the date of th[e] decision,
” April 19, 2016. R. at 24. Unsatisfied with the result
of the SSA's administrative process, Gum turned to
federal district court for review.
Standard of Review
Court has carefully read the ALJ's full decision and all
medical reports it cites. The Court also read and considered
the full administrative hearing and record. Judicial review
of the ALJ's decision to deny disability benefits is a
limited and deferential inquiry into whether substantial
evidence supports the denial's factual decisions and
whether the ALJ properly applied relevant legal standards.
Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399,
405 (6th Cir. 2009); Jordan v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 548 F.3d 417, 422 (6th Cir. 2008); Brainard v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 889 F.2d 679,
681 (6th Cir. 1989) (citing Richardson v. Perales,
91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427 (1971)); see also 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) (providing and defining judicial review for
Social Security claims) (“The findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive[.]”).
evidence means “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); see
also Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387,
390 (6th Cir. 2004). The Court does not try the case de
novo, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or assess
questions of credibility. Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d
506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007). Similarly, the Court does not
reverse findings of the Commissioner or the ALJ merely
because the record contains evidence-even substantial
evidence-to support a different conclusion. Warner,
375 F.3d at 390. Rather, the Court must affirm the ALJ's
decision if substantial evidence supports it, even if the
Court might have decided the case differently if in the
ALJ's shoes. See Longworth v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005); Her v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir.
ALJ, when determining disability, conducts a five-step
analysis. See Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994); 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4). At Step 1, the ALJ considers whether
the claimant is performing substantial gainful activity.
See Preslar, 14 F.3d at 1110. At Step 2, the ALJ
determines whether one or more of the claimant's
impairments are severe. Id. At Step 3, the ALJ
analyzes whether the claimant's impairments, alone or in
combination, meet or equal an entry in the Listing of
Impairments. Id. At Step 4, the ALJ determines RFC
and whether the claimant can perform past relevant work.
Id. The inquiry at this stage is whether the
claimant can still perform that type of work, not necessarily
the specific past job. See Studaway v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 815 F.2d 1074, 1076 (6th Cir.
1987). Finally, at Step 5, when the burden of proof shifts to
the Commissioner, if the claimant cannot perform past
relevant work, the ALJ determines whether significant numbers
of other jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant
can perform, given the applicable RFC. See Preslar,
14 F.3d at 1110; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). If the ALJ
determines at any step that the claimant is not disabled, the
analysis ends at that step. Mowery v. Heckler, 771
F.2d 966, 969 (6th Cir. 1985); 20 C.F.R. §
reviewing the ALJ's application of the legal standards,
the Court gives deference to his interpretation of the law
and reviews the decision for reasonableness and consistency
with governing statutes. Whiteside v. Sec'y of Health
& Human Servs., 834 F.2d 1289, 1292 (6th Cir. 1987).
In a Social Security benefits case, the agency's
construction of the statute should be followed “unless
there are compelling indications that it is wrong.”
Merz v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 969
F.2d 201, 203 (6th Cir. 1992) (quoting Whiteside,
834 F.2d at 1292).
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's RFC
generally argues that substantial evidence does not support
ALJ Paris's RFC determination. Gum's chief complaint
is that the ALJ “improperly speculated that
‘passage of time' would result in improvement in
[Gum]'s knee impairment, and used this unsupported lay
assumption to reject the opinion of consultative medical
examiner Dr. McEldowney.” DE #15-2, at 11. The Acting
Commissioner, on the other hand, contends that the ALJ
“reasonably evaluated the medical source opinions,
” “reasonably concluded that [Gum]'s knee
would continue to improve” given the entire record, and
formulated an RFC “supported by substantial
evidence.” DE #18, at 5-8.
Paris, upon “careful consideration of the entire
record, ” R. at 16, crafted ...