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Standifer v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division

June 15, 2018

ADAM STANDIFER PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          H. BRENT BRENNENSTUHL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         BACKGROUND

         Before the Court is the complaint (DN 1) of Plaintiff Adam Standifer seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN 16) and Defendant (DN 20) have filed a Fact and Law Summary. For the reasons that follow, the final decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties have consented to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge conducting all further proceedings in this case, including issuance of a memorandum opinion and entry of judgment, with direct review by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the event an appeal is filed (DN 12). By Order entered November 15, 2017 (DN 13), the parties were notified that oral arguments would not be held unless a written request therefor was filed and granted. No. such request was filed.

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income on December 19, 2013[1](Tr. 368-73. Plaintiff alleged that he became disabled on May 28, 2013 as a result of avascular necrosis, inability to walk without crutches, and depression (Tr. 392). On, February 25, 2016 Administrative Law Judge Marci Eaton conducted a video hearing from Paducah, Kentucky (Tr. 101, 103). Plaintiff and her attorney, Sara Martin participated from Owensboro, Kentucky (Id.). James Adams, the testifying vocational expert, was present in the hearing room in Paducah, Kentucky (Id.).

         In a decision dated May 16, 2016 the ALJ evaluated this adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 80-92). At the first step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 18, 2013, the application date (Tr. 85). At the second step, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had the following severe impairments within the meaning of the regulations: status-post back surgery, degenerative disc disease, avascular necrosis of the left hip, status-post total left hip replacement, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (Tr. 85). Notably, at the second step, the ALJ also determined that Plaintiff's Hepatitis C, status-post gallbladder removal surgery, and mental impairments of depression and anxiety are "non-severe" impairments within the meaning of the regulations (Tr. 85-86). At the third step, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1 (Tr. 87).

         At the fourth step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.927(a)[2] (Tr. 88). More specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is:

limited to: lifting [twenty] pounds occasionally and [ten] pounds frequently; standing and/or walking for two hours out of an eight hour work day; sitting for six hours out of an eight hour workday; occasionally pushing and/or pulling with his left lower extremity; occasionally climbing ramps and stairs; never climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequently balancing and stooping; occasionally kneeling, crouching, or crawling; and avoiding concentrated exposure to extreme cold, vibrating equipment, moving machinery, and unprotected heights.

(Tr. 88). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any of his past relevant work as a farm laborer, welder, and general laborer (Tr. 91).

         The ALJ proceeded to the fifth step where she considered Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience as well as testimony from the vocational expert (Tr. 92-93). The ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing a significant No. of jobs that exist in the national economy (Tr. 93). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a A disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from November 18, 2013 through the date of the decision (Tr. 93). PLAINTIFF timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 356-57). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-5).

         CONCLUSIONS OF LAW .

         Standard of Review

         Review by the Court is limited to determining whether the findings set forth in the final decision of the Commissioner are supported by A substantial evidence, ” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Cotton v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 692, 695 (6th Cir. 1993); Wyatt v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 974 F.2d 680, 683 (6th Cir. 1992), and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Landsaw v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th Cir. 1986). A Substantial evidence exists when a reasonable mind could accept the evidence as adequate to support the challenged conclusion, even if that evidence could support a decision the other way.” Cotton, 2 F.3d at 695 (quoting Casey v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993)). In reviewing a case for substantial evidence, the Court A may not try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in evidence, nor decide questions of credibility” Cohen v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 964 F.2d 524, 528 (6th Cir. 1992) (quoting Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984)).

         As previously mentioned, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-5). At that point, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955(b), 404.981, 422.210(a); see 42 U.S.C. § 405(h) (finality of the Commissioner's decision). Thus, the Court will be reviewing the decision of the ALJ, not the Appeals Council, and the evidence that was in the administrative record when the ALJ rendered the decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); 20 C.F.R. § 404.981; Cline v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 96 F.3d 146, 148 (6th Cir. 1996); Cotton v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 692, 695-696 (6th Cir. 1993).

         The Commissioner's Sequential Evaluation Process

         The Social Security Act authorizes payment of Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income to persons with disabilities. 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. (Title II Disability Insurance Benefits), 1381 et seq. (Title XVI ...


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