United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Covington
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
L. Bunning Judge.
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 and the parties' dispositive motions, and for
the reasons set forth herein, will affirm the
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
February 24, 2014, Plaintiff Christopher Ransom applied for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), alleging
disability beginning on February 8, 2013. (Tr. 574, 598).
Plaintiff was forty-one-years old at the time of the alleged
disability onset date, and he alleged that he was unable to
work due to a back injury. Id.
application was denied initially, and again on
reconsideration. (Tr. 482-492; 495-506). At Plaintiff's
request, an administrative hearing was conducted on April 21,
2016, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
Andrew Gollin. (Tr. 58-102). On June 16, 2016, ALJ Gollin
ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. (Tr.
40-57). This decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner on August 18, 2017, when the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-7). In
denying review, the Appeals Council also declined to consider
new medical evidence submitted by the Plaintiff because it
did “not show a reasonable probability that it would
change the outcome of the decision.” (Tr. 2).
filed the instant action on September 13, 2017, alleging the
ALJ's decision “was contrary to law” and
applied “incorrect standards.” (Doc. # 1 at 2).
The matter has culminated in cross-motions for summary
judgment, which are now ripe for adjudication. (Docs. # 13
Overview of the Process
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
Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 729 (6th Cir. 2007).
“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.” Cutlip
v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284,
286 (6th Cir. 1994). 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 conclusions unless
the Commissioner failed to apply the correct legal standard
or made findings of fact that are unsupported by substantial
evidence.” McClanahan v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006). 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 & Human
Servs., 846 F.2d 345, 349 (6th Cir. 1988). Put another
way, “[t]he findings of the Commissioner are not
subject to reversal merely because there exists in the record
substantial evidence to support a different
conclusion.” McClanahan, 474 F.3d at 833
(citing Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th
Cir. 2001)). “This is so because there is a ‘zone
of choice' within which the Commissioner can act, without
the fear of court interference.” Buxton, 246
F.3d at 772.
determine disability, the ALJ conducts a five-step analysis.
Step One considers whether the claimant has engaged in
substantial gainful activity; Step Two, whether any of the
claimant's impairments, alone or in combination, 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 a significant number of
other jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant
can perform. The burden of proof rests with the claimant on
Steps One through Four. As to the last step, the burden of
proof shifts to the Commissioner to identify “jobs in
the economy that accommodate [Plaintiff's] residual
functional capacity.” See Jones v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003); see
also Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs.,
14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).
The ALJ's Determination
One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since February 8, 2013, the
alleged onset date of disability. (Tr. 45). At Step Two, the
ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: lumbar disc displacement and bulging;
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine status post
anterior fusion of L5-S1. Id. The ALJ also
determined that Plaintiff had one non-severe impairment:
depression. (Tr. 45-46). At Step Three, the ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff possessed the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to perform work at the light
exertional level, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b),
with the following limitations:
The claimant is limited to lifting/carrying no more than 15
pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. The claimant is
limited to standing/walking for no more than one hour at a
time and for a total of no more than five hours in an
eight-hour workday. The claimant is limited to sitting for no
more than one hour at a time and for a total of no more than
six hours in an eight-hour workday. The claimant is limited
to no more than occasional climbing of ramps and stairs,
balancing, stooping, crouching, kneeling, and crawling. The
claimant is limited to no climbing of ropes, ladders, or
scaffolds. The claimant is limited to no work involving
concentrated exposure to vibration. The claimant is limited
to no work involving hazardous machinery or equipment and no
work involving unprotected heights.
(Tr. 47). Based on this RFC and relying on the testimony of a
vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was not able to perform his past relevant work as a
forklift operator, material handler, or mixer. (Tr. 52).
Therefore, the ALJ proceeded to Step Five where he determined
that there were other jobs that existed in significant
numbers in the national economy that the Plaintiff could have
performed. (Tr. 28-29). Specifically, the ALJ determined that
the Plaintiff could perform the following occupations:
cashier, general office clerk, or rental clerk. (Tr. 53).
the determination that jobs at the light exertional level
existed in significant numbers in the national economy was
sufficient to conclude the analysis, the ALJ also considered
the Plaintiff's job prospects if he had the RFC to
perform work at the sedentary exertional level. Id.
“Even if the [Plaintiff was] further limited to
sedentary work with the other restrictions identified”
in the RFC, the ALJ found that “he would still be able
to perform a significant number of jobs in the national
economy. Id. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act. Id.
advances four arguments in his Motion for Summary Judgment.
(Doc. # 13). First, Plaintiff claims that the ALJ erred in
weighing the medical-opinion testimony. (Doc. # 13-1 at 17).
Second, Plaintiff appears to argue that the ALJ erred in
assessing his credibility. Id. at 2-5, 15. Third,
Plaintiff advances a general argument that the RFC is not
supported by substantial evidence. Id. at 13-16. And
lastly, the Plaintiff suggests that remand is appropriate
under Sentence Six because he has presented new, material
evidence. Id. at 18. The Court will consider each
argument in turn.
The ALJ did not err in weighing the medical-opinion
social security disability cases, medical evidence may come
from treating sources, non-treating sources, and
non-examining sources. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527. A treating
source is the claimant's “own acceptable medical
source who provides [claimant], or has provided [claimant],
with medical treatment or evaluation and who has, or has had,
an ongoing treatment relationship with [claimant].”
Id.; see also Abney v. Astrue, No.
5:07-cv-394-KKC, 2008 WL 2074011, at *11 (E.D. Ky. May 13,
2008). A non-treating source is an acceptable medical source
who has examined the claimant, but does not have an ongoing
treatment relationship with her, while a non-examining source
has provided medical or other opinion evidence in the case
without examining the claimant. Id.
Plaintiff takes issue with the ALJ's decision to accord
any weight to the medical opinion testimony of Dr. Sadler, a
non-examining source, as well as the ALJ's decision to
give only some weight to the testimony of Dr. Wunder, a
non-treating, examining source. (Doc. # 13-1 at 14-15, 17).
The Plaintiff also challenges the ALJ's alleged
“rejection” of Dr. Jacquemin's medical
opinion. The Court will address the ALJ's assessment of
each doctor's medical-opinion evidence in turn.