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Kessans v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Covington

August 2, 2018

JONA KESSANS 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 March 11, 2013, Plaintiff Jona Kessans filed an application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), alleging disability beginning on October 5, 2010. (Tr. 316-17). Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that she was limited in her ability to work due the following: “Asperger's syndrome, ptsd-mst, orthopedic issues, etc.”; “Asperger's Syndrome”; “PTSD - MST includes MDD and Anxiety”; Cervical and Thoracic Spine Injuries”; “Left Knee Injury”; “Asthma & Chronic Bronchitis”; and “Right Hip Injury.” (Tr. 358).

         Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 111-14, 116-23). At Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was conducted on June 27, 2016, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Peter J. Boylan. (Tr. 39-79). On August 1, 2016, ALJ Boylan ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 12-38). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on September 14, 2017. (Tr. 1-5).

         On November 6, 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. # 9 and 14).[1]

         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 from October 5, 2010 through her date last insured, December 31, 2015. (Tr. 17). At Step Two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “degenerative disc disease, arthopathy, obesity, asthma, headaches, affective disorder, anxiety disorder, personality disorder, and Asperger's syndrome (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).” Id. At Step Three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that “met or medically equaled 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, and 404.1526.” (Tr. 19).

         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:

[S]he could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and was limited to frequent balancing and stooping, and to occasional kneeling, crouching, crawling, and climbing of ramps and stairs. The claimant was limited to occasional overhead reaching bilaterally. She had to avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, humidity, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, poor ventilation, and workplace hazards such as dangerous machinery and unprotected heights. The claimant was limited to simple routine tasks and was not able to perform at a production rate pace such as generally associated with jobs like assembly line work, but could perform goal oriented work such as generally associated with jobs like office cleaner. She was limited to simple work-related decisions and to occasional and ...

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