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Ray v. Berryhill

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

April 24, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration DEFENDANT


          David L. Bunning, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff brought this pro se action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Court, having reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner's decision, as it is supported by substantial evidence.


         On October 28, 2013, Plaintiff Lannie S. Ray filed an application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), alleging disability beginning on November 1, 2012. (Tr. 274-85). Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that he was limited in his ability to work due to the following: herniated disk L5-S1; right knee pain; hypertension; sacroilitis in left hip; fatigue; anxiety; mood disorder due to general medical condition; cervical spine injury with arthritis C3-C4; involuntary muscle twitching in both arms; pain and stiffness in neck; and pain and numbness in both hands. (Tr. 278).

         Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 185-88, 194-200). At Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was conducted on March 30, 2016, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Robert B. Bowling. (Tr. 113-52). On April 22, 2016, ALJ Bowling ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 88-112). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on July 7, 2017. (Tr. 1-9).

         On August 22, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant action. (Doc. # 1). This matter has culminated in cross-motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for the Court's review.[1] (Docs. # 12, 13 and 14).


         A. Overview of the Process

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is restricted to determining whether it is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards. See Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). “Substantial evidence” is defined as “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.” Id. Courts are not to conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or make credibility determinations. Id. Rather, the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence, even if the Court might have decided the case differently. See Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999). If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's findings must be affirmed, even if there is evidence favoring Plaintiff's side. Listenbee v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 846 F.2d 345, 349 (6th Cir. 1988). Similarly, an administrative decision is not subject to reversal merely because substantial evidence would have supported the opposite conclusion. Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 780, 781-82 (6th Cir. 1996).

         The ALJ, in determining disability, conducts a five-step analysis. Step One considers whether the claimant is still performing substantial gainful activity; Step Two, whether any of the claimant's impairments are “severe”; Step Three, whether the impairments meet or equal a listing in the Listing of Impairments; Step Four, whether the claimant can still perform his past relevant work; and Step Five, whether significant numbers of other jobs exist in the national economy which the claimant can perform. As to the last step, the burden of proof shifts from the claimant to the Commissioner. See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003); Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).

         B. The ALJ's Determination

         At Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 1, 2012. (Tr. 93). At Step Two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “disorders of the back, both discogenic and degenerative; osteoarthrosis and allied disorders; disorders of the joints; and essential hypertension (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).” Id. At Step Three, while recognizing that Plaintiff had “severe” impairments, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did 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 CFR 404.152(d), 404.1525, and 414.1526)." (Tr. 96).

         At Step Four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) with the exertional and non-exertional limitations as follows:

[T]he claimant can stand and walk for only six hours total in an eight-hour workday. He can sit for only six hours total in an eight-hour workday, and would require a sit or stand option on a 30-minute basis. The claimant can never climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds, and can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs. He can only occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He can only occasionally reach overhead or only occasionally push or pull with the left upper or left lower extremity. He should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, wetness or humidity. He should avoid all exposure to hazards, such as the use of moving machinery and work at unprotected heights.

         (Tr. 97). Based upon the RFC, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not able to perform his past relevant work. (Tr. 104). Accordingly, the ALJ proceeded to Step Five and found that, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 104-05). The ALJ therefore concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from November 1, 2012, through the date of decision. (Tr. 105).

         C. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.

         Plaintiff presents fourteen (14) specific errors on appeal:

(1) The ALJ failed to consider or mention the examination of Plaintiff by Doctor Phillip Hatfield, Ph.D.;
(2) The ALJ failed to consider or document the Veteran's Administration's (“VA”) determination that Plaintiff was seventy percent disabled, ...

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