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Sturgill v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, Pikeville

March 26, 2018

RANDY WAYNE STURGILL, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          KAREN K. CALDWELL, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This matter is before the Court for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Randy Wayne Sturgill (DE 14) and Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (DE 16). Sturgill brought this action under Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), as provided under Titles II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). The Court, having reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner's decision.

         I. Overview of the Process

         To determine whether a claimant has a compensable disability under the Social Security Act, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) applies a five step sequential process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(1), (4); see also Miller v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 81 F.3d 825, 835 n.6 (6th Cir. 2016) (describing the five-step evaluation process). The five steps, in summary, are:

Step 1: If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, the claimant is not disabled.
Step 2: If the claimant does not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment-i.e., an impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities-the claimant is not disabled.
Step 3: If the claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity and is suffering from a severe impairment that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and his or her impairment meets or equals a listed impairment, the claimant is presumed disabled without further inquiry.
Step 4: If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him or her from doing his or her past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled.
Step 5: If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is disabled.

Sorrell v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 656 F. App'x. 162, 169 (6th Cir. 2016) (citing Rabbers v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 582 F.3d 647, 652 (6th Cir. 2009)).

         If, at any step in the process, the ALJ concludes that the claimant is or is not disabled, the ALJ can then complete the “determination or decision and [the ALJ] do[es] not go on to the next step.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). In the first four steps of the process the claimant bears the burden of proof. Sorrell, 656 F. App'x. at 169 (quoting Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003)). If the claim proceeds to step five, however, “the burden shifts to the Commissioner to identify a significant number of jobs in the economy that accommodate the claimant's residual functional capacity . . . and vocational profile.” Id. (internal citations omitted); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)(1).

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff Randy Wayne Sturgill was born in 1971. (Administrative Record (“AR”) 50). He is divorced with one child and lives alone, but has a girlfriend. (AR 50-61, 61). He has an eleventh grade education and dropped out of school to begin working in the coal mines, which he did for nearly twenty-seven years. (AR 51-53). Working on average sixty hours a week, Sturgill performed a number of jobs operating different types of equipment during his long career in the mines. (AR 52, 64). His last date of reported work was September 7, 2012 when his neck and shoulder were injured in a rock fall. (AR 65). As a result of the injury, Sturgill underwent neck surgery, but his spine has not yet fully fused. (AR 65).

         Sturgill applied for Disability Insurance Benefits on June 4, 2013. (AR 162-66). In his disability report, Sturgill claimed that he was unable to work due to a broken neck, shoulder injuries, high blood pressure and cholesterol, sleep apnea, and thyroid problems. (AR 187). Sturgill's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (AR 87, 111). He then filed a timely request for a hearing before an ALJ (AR 118-19).

         A hearing was conducted by ALJ Don C. Paris on February 3, 2015. (AR 46). Sturgill attended the hearing via videoconference, accompanied by his attorney, and testified on his own behalf. Laura Whitten Lykins, an impartial vocational expert, also appeared and testified. (AR 46-47). After the hearing, the ALJ issued a written opinion on ...


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