United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville
Whalin, Magistrate Judge United States District Court
Michael Riggs has filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§405(g) to obtain judicial review of a final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security that denied his
applications for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and
supplemental security income (SSI). Riggs applied for DIB and
SSI on July 26 and August 13, 2013, respectively, alleging
that he was disabled as of May 24, 2013, due to degenerative
disc disease of the lumbar spine, diabetes mellitus
accompanied by peripheral neuropathy, osteoarthritis of the
hands, coronary artery disease, hypertension, COPD/ asthma
and obesity (Tr. 131, 324, 326). The Commissioner denied
Riggs' claims on initial consideration (Tr. 221-222) and
on reconsideration (Tr.249-250). Riggs requested a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) (Tr. 275-76).
William C. Zuber conducted a hearing in Louisville, Kentucky,
on March 2, 2016 (Tr. 152-202). Riggs attended with his
attorney, Ms. Sykes (Tr. 152). Riggs and vocational expert
(VE) Robert Piper testified at the hearing (Tr.). Following
the conclusion of the hearing, ALJ Zuber entered a hearing
decision on August 24, 2016 that found Riggs is not disabled
for the purposes of the Social Security Act (Tr. 129-146).
adverse decision, ALJ Zuber made the following findings:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2018.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since May 24, 2013, the alleged onset date (20
C.F.R. 404.1571, et seq. and 416.971, et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: lumbar
spine degenerative disc disease, diabetes mellitus with lower
extremity peripheral neuropathy, osteoarthritis of the hands,
coronary artery disease, hypertension, chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease (COPD) /asthma, and obesity (20 CFR
404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)). (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(c) and
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526,
416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except he would require the
option to change positions between sitting and/or standing
every 30 to 45 minutes: he could never crawl, kneel, balance,
or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he could no more than
occasionally stoop, crouch, and climb ramps or stairs; he
could no more than occasionally reach overhead; he could no
more than frequently use the hands; he would be limited to no
concentrated exposure to extremes of temperature, vibration,
dust, fumes, gases, or odors; he could have no exposure to
dangerous machinery or unprotected heights; and he would
require a cane for ambulation but not standing.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 C.F.R. 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on January 15, 1969, and was
44-years-old, which is defined as a younger individual age
18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 C.F.R.
404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has at least a high-school education and is
able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. 404.1564 and
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or
not the claimant has transferrable job skills (See SSR 82-41
and 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 2).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs
that exist in significant No. in the national economy that
the claimant can perform (20 C.F.R. 404.1569, 404.1569(a),
416.969 and 416.969(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from May 24, 2013, through the
date of this decision (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).
(Tr. 129-146). Riggs sought review of the hearing decision by
the Appeals Council (Tr. 121-123). The Appeals Council denied
his request for review after receiving additional evidence
(DN 10-60), finding no reason under the Rules to review ALJ
Zuber's decision (Tr. 1-8). The present lawsuit followed.
5-Step Sequential Evaluation Process.
is defined by law as being the inability to do 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 12 months. See, 20 CFR
§§ 404.1505(a)(4), 416.905(a). To determine whether
a claimant for DIB or SSI benefits satisfies such definition,
a 5-step evaluation process has been developed. 20 CFR
§§ 404.1520, 916.920(a). At step 1, the
Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is currently
engaged in substantial gainful activity; if so, the
Commissioner will find the claimant to be not disabled. See,
20 CFR §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(ii),
416.971. See, Dinkel v. Secretary, 910 F.2d, 315,
318 (6th Cir. 1990).
claimant is not working, then the Commissioner next must
determine at step 2 of the evaluation process whether the
claimant has a severe impairment or combination of severe
impairments that significantly limit his or her ability to
perform basic work activities. See 20 CFR §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the impairments of
the claimant are determined by the Commissioner to be
non-severe, in other words, so slight that they could not
result in a finding of disability irrespective of a
claimant's vocational factors, then the claimant will be
determined to be not disabled at step 2. See, Higgs v.
Bowen, 880 F.2d 960, 962 (6th Cir. 1988);
Mowery v. Heckler, 771 F.2d 966, 971-72
(6th Cir. 1985).
claimant has a severe impairment or impairments, then the
Commissioner at step 3 of the process will determine whether
such impairments are sufficiently serious to satisfy the
listing of impairments found in Appendix 1 of Subpart P of
Part 404 of the federal regulations. 20 CFR §§
404.1520(A)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii) The claimant will be
determined to be automatically disabled without consideration
of his or her age, education or work experience if the
claimant's impairments are sufficiently severe to meet or
equal the criteria of any impairment listed in the Appendix.
See, Lankford v. Sullivan, 942 F.2d 301, 306
(6th Cir. 1991); Abbott v. Sullivan, 905
F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990).
the severity of the claimant's impairments does not meet
or equal the listings, then the Commissioner must determine
at step 4 whether the claimant retains the residual
functional capacity (RFC) given his or her impairments to
permit a return to any of his or her past relevant work. 20
CFR §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv).
See, Smith v. Secretary, 893 F.2d 106, 109-110
(6th Cir. 1989). A claimant who retains the
residual functional capacity, despite his or her severe
impairments, to perform past relevant work is not disabled.
20 CFR §§ 404.1560(b)(3), 416.960(b)(3). The burden
switches to the Commissioner at step 5 of the sequential
evaluation process to establish that the claimant, who cannot
return to his or her past relevant work, remains capable of
performing alternative work in the national economy given his
or her residual functional capacity, age, education and past
relevant work experience. See, 20 CFR §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1560(c), 416.920(a)(4)(v), 416.960(c);
Felisky v. Bowen, 35 F.3d 1027, 1035 (6th
Cir. 1994); Herr v. Commissioner, 203 F.3d 388, 391
(6th Cir. 1999).
the above disability evaluation analysis is commonly referred
to as the “5-step sequential evaluation process.”
Standard of Review Review of a decision of the Commissioner
is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The statute, and case
law that interprets it, require a reviewing court to affirm
the findings of the Commissioner if they are supported by
substantial evidence and the Commissioner has employed the
appropriate legal standard. Walters v. Commissioner of Social
Security, 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997)
(“This Court must affirm the Commissioner's
conclusions absent a determination that the Commissioner has
failed to apply the correct legal standards or has made
findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the
record.). Substantial evidence is defined by the Supreme
Court to be “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). See also,
Lashley v. Sec'y of HHS, 708 F.2d 1048, 1053
(6th Cir. 1983) (citing Perales). It is ...