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Pinson v. Berryhill

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

March 28, 2018

STEVEN VICTOR PINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner Of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove United States District Judge

         Steven Victor Pinson seeks judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, which denied his claim for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits. Mr. Pinson brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), alleging various errors on the part of the ALJ considering the matter. The Court, having reviewed the record and for the reasons set forth herein, will DENY Mr. Pinson's Motion for Summary Judgment and GRANT the Commissioner's.

         I

         A

         Plaintiff Steven Victor Pinson initially filed an application for Title II disability insurance benefits on April 16, 2014, alleging disability beginning on February 20, 2010. [Transcript (hereinafter, “Tr.”) 20.] Administrative Law Judge Benton denied this request on June 27, 2014, and again denied it upon reconsideration on September 10, 2014. Id. Mr. Pinson filed a request for a hearing on September 12, 2014, which was held on May 10, 2016. Id. On September 1, 2016, ALJ Benton again denied Mr. Pinson's application. Id. at 17. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Pinson's request for review on August 22, 2017. Id. at 1.

         To evaluate a claim of disability for Title II disability insurance benefit claims, an ALJ conducts a five-step analysis. Compare 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (disability insurance benefit claim) with 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 (claims for supplemental security income).[1] First, if a claimant is performing a substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, if a claimant does not have any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limit his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, he does not have a severe impairment and is not “disabled” as defined by the regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). Third, if a claimant's impairments meet or equal one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, he is “disabled.” C.F.R. § 404.1530(d). Before moving on to the fourth step, the ALJ must use all of the relevant evidence in the record to determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), which assess an individual's ability to perform certain physical and metal work activities on a sustained basis despite any impairment experienced by the individual. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545.

         Fourth, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has the RFC to perform the requirements of his past relevant work, and if a claimant's impairments do not prevent him from doing past relevant work, he is not “disabled.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). Fifth, if a claimant's impairments (considering his RFC, age, education, and past work) prevent him from doing other work that exists in the national economy, then he is “disabled.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).

         Through Step Four of the analysis, “the claimant bears the burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations caused by her impairments and the fact that she is precluded from performing her past relevant work.” Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). At Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to identify a significant number of jobs that accommodate the claimant's profile, but the claimant retains the ultimate burden of proving his lack of residual functional capacity. Id.; Jordan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 548 F.3d 417, 423 (6th Cir. 2008).

         At the outset of this case, the ALJ determined that Mr. Pinson met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2015. Tr. 22; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.131. Then at Step One, the ALJ found Mr. Pinson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability onset date, February 20, 2010, through his date last insured. Tr. 22. At Step Two, the ALJ found Mr. Pinson to suffer from the following severe impairments: cervicalgia, lumbago, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), and depression. Id. At Step Three, the ALJ determined his combination of impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404 or Part 416. Id. at 22-23. Before moving on to Step Four, the ALJ considered the record and determined that Mr. Pinson possessed the following residual functioning capacity:

[Mr. Pinson] had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R 404.1567(b) except the claimant (1) could occasionally climb stairs and ramps; (2) could never climb ladders or scaffolds; (3) could frequently balance; (4) could occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; (5) must have avoided concentrated exposure to dust, odors, fumes and other pulmonary irritants; (6) must have avoided concentrated exposure to hazards such as moving mechanical parts and unprotected heights; and (7) would need the opportunity to very briefly change position, while remaining on task, after sitting or standing for approximately 30 minutes. Further, the claimant could (1) understand, remember and carry out simple instructions; (2) have occasional interaction with supervisors, coworkers, and the public; (3) only make simple, work-related decisions; and (4) only tolerate occasional change in work location.

Id. at 25. After explaining the RFC, the ALJ found at Step Four that, based on his RFC, age, education, and work experience, Mr. Pinson was not capable of performing past relevant work as a miner, but was capable of performing other jobs existing in the national economy. Id. at 32- 33. Accordingly, the ALJ found at Step Five that Mr. Pinson was not disabled from February 20, 2010, through the date last insured, pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f). Id. at 34. Mr. Pinson filed this action for review on October 18, 2017. [R. 1.]

         B

         The Court's review is generally limited to whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Wright v. Massanari, 321 F.3d 611, 614 (6th Cir. 2003); Shelman v. Heckler, 821 F.2d 316, 319-20 (6th Cir. 1987). “Substantial evidence” is “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) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). The substantial evidence standard “presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which [administrative] decision makers can go either way, without interference by the courts.” Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (quoting Baker v. Heckler, 730 F.2d 1147, 1150 (8th Cir. 1984)).

         To determine whether substantial evidence exists, courts must examine the record as a whole. Cutlip, 25 F.3d at 286 (citing Kirk v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 535 (6th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 957 (1983)). However, a reviewing court may not conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or make credibility determinations. Ulman v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir. 2012); see also Bradley v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 862 F.2d 1224, 1228 (6th Cir. 1988). Rather, if the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it must be affirmed even if the reviewing court would decide the matter differently, and even if substantial evidence also ...


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