United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville
STEPHAINE J. RICKS PLAINTIFF
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY DEFENDANT
WHALIN, MAGISTRATE JUDGE UNITED STATES
Stephaine J. Ricks has filed a complaint pursuant to 42
U.S.C. §405(g) to obtain judicial review of a final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security that denied
his application for disability insurance benefits (DIB).
Ricks applied for DIB and SSI on January 21, 2014, alleging
that he was disabled as of June 1, 2011, due to gout,
polyneuropathy, degenerative joint disease of the hip,
degenerative disc disease and PTSD (Tr.23). The Commissioner
denied Rick's claims on initial consideration (Tr.98-101)
and on reconsideration (Tr. 103-09). Ricks requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) (Tr.
John R. Price conducted a hearing in Louisville, Kentucky, on
March 23, 2016 (Tr.36-65). Ricks attended with his
representative Kirsten Brown (Tr. 36). Ricks and vocational
expert (VE) Linda Jones testified at the hearing (Tr. 40-58,
59-65). Following the conclusion of the hearing, ALJ Price
entered a hearing decision on May 24, 2106 that found Ricks
is not disabled for the purposes of the Social Security Act
adverse decision, ALJ Price made the following findings:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act through December 31, 2016.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since June 1, 2011, the alleged onset date (20
C.F.R. 404.1571, et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: gout,
polyneuropathy, degenerative joint disease of the hip,
degenerative disc disease and PTSD (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(c)).
4. The claimant does 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 C.F.R. 404.1520(d), 404.1525,
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find
that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except
he can occasionally bend, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl,
but should not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He
should not work around hazards such as unprotected heights.
He can perform simple 1-2 step tasks with little-to-no
change in work routine from day-to-day. He can have
occasional superficial interaction with co-workers and
supervisors, but no contact with the public.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 C.F.R. 404.1565).
7. The claimant was born on May 24, 1967, and was
44-years-old, which is defined as a younger individual age
18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 C.F.R.
8. The claimant has at least a high-school education and is
able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. 404.1564).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether
or not the claimant has transferrable job skills (See SSR
82-41 and 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 2).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are
jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy that the claimant can perform (20 C.F.R. 404.1569,
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as
defined in the Social Security Act, from June 1, 2011,
through the date of this decision (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(g)).
(Tr.21-31). Ricks sought review of the hearing decision by
the Appeals Council (Tr. 17). The Appeals Council denied his
request for review, finding no reason under the Rules to
review ALJ Price's decision (Tr.1-6). The present lawsuit
Five-Step Sequential Evaluation Process.
is defined by law as being the inability to do substantial
gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result
in death, or which has lasted or can be expected to last for
a continuous period of not less than 12 months. See, 20 CFR
§§ 404.1505(a)(4), 416.905(a). To determine whether
a claimant for DIB or SSI benefits satisfies such definition,
a 5-step evaluation process has been developed. 20 CFR
§§ 404.1520, 916.920(a). Miller v.
Commissioner, 811 F.3d 825, 834 n. 6 (6th
Cir. 2016)(“ The ALJ must engage in a five-step
sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant
is disabled.”). At step 1, the Commissioner must
determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity; if so, the Commissioner will
find the claimant to be not disabled. See, 20 CFR
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(ii), 416.971.
See, Gayhaeart v. Commissioner, 710 F.3d 365, 374-75
(6th Cir. 2013)(“If claimant is doing
substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled.”);
Dinkel v. Secretary, 910 F.2d, 315, 318
(6th Cir. 1990).
claimant is not working, then the Commissioner next must
determine at step 2 of the evaluation process whether the
claimant has a severe impairment or combination of severe
impairments that significantly limit his or her ability to
perform basic work activities. See 20 CFR §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Gayheart, 710
F.3d at 374(“If claimant is not doing substantial
gainful activity, his impairment must be severe before he can
be found to be disabled.”). If the impairments of the
claimant are determined by the Commissioner to be non-severe,
in other words, so slight that they could not result in a
finding of disability irrespective of a claimant's
vocational factors, then the claimant will be determined to
be not disabled at step 2. See, Rabbers v.
Commissioner, 582 F.3d 647, 652 (6th Cir.
2009); Higgs v. Bowen, 880 F.2d 960, 962
(6th Cir. 1988); Gray v. Astrue, 780
F.Supp.2d. 548, 550 (E.D. Ky. 2011)(“ If the claimant
is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity,
does he have any “severe” impairment or
combination of impairments-i.e., any impairments
significantly limiting his physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities? If not, a finding of non-disability is
made and the claim is denied.”)
claimant has a severe impairment or impairments, then the
Commissioner at step 3 of the process will determine whether
such impairments are sufficiently serious to satisfy the
listing of impairments found in Appendix 1 of Subpart P of
Part 404 of the federal regulations. 20 CFR §§
404.1520(A)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii); Rabbers,
582 F.3d at 652. The claimant will be determined to be
automatically disabled without consideration of his or her
age, education or work experience if the claimant's
impairments are sufficiently severe to meet or equal the
criteria of any impairment listed in the Appendix.
See, Combs v. Commissioner, 459 F.3d 640,
642 (6thCir. 2006)(“Claimants are
conclusively presumed to be disabled if they suffer from an
infirmity that appears on the SSA's special list of
impairments, or that is at least equal in severity to those
listed.”); Lankford v. Sullivan, 942 F.2d 301,
306 (6th Cir. 1991)(same).
the severity of the claimant's impairments does not meet
or equal the listings, then the Commissioner must determine
at step 4 whether the claimant retains the residual
functional capacity (RFC) given his or her impairments to
permit a return to any of his or her past relevant work. 20
CFR §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv).
See, Wilson v. Commissioner, 378 F.3d 541, 458 (6th
Cir. 2004); Smith v. Secretary, 893 F.2d 106,
109-110 (6th Cir. 1989). A claimant who retains
the residual functional capacity, despite his or her severe
impairments, to perform past relevant work is not disabled.
20 CFR §§ 404.1560(b)(3), 416.960(b)(3).
Mackins v. Astrue, 655 F.Supp.2d 770, 776 (W.D. Ky.
2009)(“ The claimant must not be able to perform his
past relevant work either as he actually performed it or as
it generally performed in the national economy.”).
burden switches to the Commissioner at step 5 of the
sequential evaluation process to establish that the claimant,
who cannot return to his or her past relevant work, remains
capable of performing alternative work in the national
economy given his or her residual functional capacity, age,
education and past relevant work experience. See, 20 CFR
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1560(c),
416.920(a)(4)(v), 416.960(c); Hensley v. Astrue, 573
F.3d 263, 264 (6th Cir. 2009); Cruse v.
Commissioner, 502 F.3d 532, 539 (6th Cir.
2007); Wilson v. Commissioner, 378 F.3d 541, 458
(6th Cir. 2004)(“ If the claimant does . . .
[satisfy the initial 4-steps], including establishing that
under the claimant's “residual functional capacity
the claimant can [not] perform his past relevant work,
” the burden then shifts to the Commissioner [at step
5] to show that “based on the claimant's residual
functional capacity, as well as his age, education, and work
experience, the claimant can make an adjustment to other
work, in which case the claimant is not disabled.”) .
Collectively, the above disability evaluation analysis is
commonly referred to as the “5-step sequential
of a decision of the Commissioner is governed by 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). The statute, and case law that interprets it,
require a reviewing court to affirm the findings of the
Commissioner if they are supported by substantial evidence
and the Commissioner has employed the appropriate legal
standard. Cole v. Astrue, 661 F.3d 931, 937 (6th
Cir.2011)(“[R]eview is limited to determining whether
the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal
standards.'); Walters v. Commissioner of Social
Security, 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997)
(“This Court must affirm the Commissioner's
conclusions absent a determination that the Commissioner has
failed to apply the correct legal standards or has made
findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the
record.); Dennis v. Astrue, 655 F.Supp.2d 746,
749-50 (W.D. Ky. 2009)(same).
evidence is defined by the Supreme Court to be “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales,402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Lindsley v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 560 F.3d 601, 604 (6th
Cir.2009); Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375
F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004)(same). See also,
Lashley v. Sec'y of HHS, 708 F.2d 1048, 1053
(6th Cir. 1983) (citing Perales). It is
more than a mere scintilla of evidence or evidence that
merely creates the suspicion of the existence of a fact, but
must be ...