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Gregory v. Berryhill

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

April 27, 2018

DAVID M. GREGORY, JR. PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          David L. Bunning United States District Judge

         Plaintiff brought this 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.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On August 13, 2014, Plaintiff David M. Gregory, Jr. filed an application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”), alleging disability beginning on November 15, 2013. (Tr. 184-99). Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that he was limited in his ability to work due to “back problems” and “breathing problems.” (Tr. 240).

         Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 66-67, 110-15, 125-31). At Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was conducted on February 22, 2016, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) George M. Bock. (Tr. 35-51). On July 13, 2017, ALJ Bock ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 16-34). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on July 24, 2017. (Tr. 1-6).

         On August 31, 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. (Docs. # 11 and 13).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Overview of the Process

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is restricted to determining whether the decision 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, provided 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 15, 2013. (Tr. 21). At Step Two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; nominal spondylosis of the cervical spine; polyneuropathy, unclear etiology; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; emphysema; borderline intellectual functioning (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).” (Tr. 22). 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 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 414.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926)." (Tr. 22).

         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) and 416.967(b), with the exertional and non-exertional limitations as follows:

[N]o climbing of ropes, ladders or scaffolds, occasional climbing of stairs or ramps, occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching or crawling, no aerobic activities such as running or jumping, no work with hands over the head; no aerobic activities such as running or jumping, no work with hands over the head; no operation of foot pedal controls; no exposure to concentrated dust, gases, smoke, ...

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