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Smith v. Berryhill

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

September 19, 2018

REVA SMITH, Administrator of the Estate of ROBERT FUGATE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHALL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          KAREN K. CALDWELL, CHIEF JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment (DE 5; 11.) The Plaintiff, Reva Smith, acting as administrator of the estate of Robert Fugate, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision denying her late father's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits. The Court, having reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner's decision because it is supported by substantial evidence and was decided by the proper legal standards.

         BACKGROUND

         An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied Fugate's claim (Administrative Record (“AR”) 28) and Smith, acting as administrator of Fugate's estate, now petitions this Court to review the decision of the presiding ALJ. The Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to determining whether it “is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards.” Rabbers v. Comm'r Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. 2009).

         In denying Fugate's claim, the ALJ engaged in the five-step sequential process set forth in the regulations under the Social Security Act (the “Act”). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(e); see Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 529 (6th Cir. 1997).

         At step one, the ALJ determined that the claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 1, 2011, the alleged onset date. (AR at 19.)

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Fugate suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerate disk disease of the lumbar spine and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), (20 CFR 404.1520(c)) (AR at 19.) Conversely, the ALJ classified Fugate's diabetes mellitus, dysphagia, and reoccurring shoulder pain as nonsevere impairments. (AR at 20.)

         At step three, the ALJ found the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.125, and 404.1526). (AR at 20.)

         The ALJ then determined that Fugate had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform “medium work” subject to certain limitations. (AR at 20.) First, Fugate could only lift and carry 50 pounds on occasion, and 25 pounds frequently. Second, the ALJ concluded that Fugate could only walk, stand, or sit for six out of the eight hours of a standard work day. (AR at 20.) Lastly, the ALJ noted that Fugate ought to “avoid concentrated exposure to full body vibration, and to respiratory irritants such as fumes, odors, dusts, and gases.” (AR at 20.)

         At step four, the ALJ found that Fugate was able to perform his past relevant work as a production worker pursuant to 20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965 (AR at 27.)

         At step five, the ALJ determined that in addition to his past work, Fugate was able to perform other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (AR at 29.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Fugate was not disabled.

         ANALYSIS

         Smith, acting as the administrator of Fugate's estate, raises three objections to the ALJ's decision. Smith first argues that the ALJ failed to consider Fugate's diabetes as a distinct impairment. (DE 5.) Second, Smith contends that the ALJ improperly discounted portions of examining physician, Dr. Williams' April 2012 opinion. (DE 5.) And finally, Smith's third argument suggests that the ALJ erred in failing to consider transferability of job skills when evaluating whether Fugate could return to his past relevant work. (DE 5.) The Court agrees with the ALJ's determinations on all three of these issues.

         I. The Failure to Designate Fugate's Diabetes as a Severe ...


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