United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
BRENT BRENNENSTUHL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
the Court is the complaint (DN 1) of Brenda Skaggs
(“Plaintiff”) seeking judicial review of the
final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Plaintiff has filed a motion for judgment on
the pleadings (DN 16) and, in response, Defendant has filed a
Fact and Law Summary (DN 22). For the reasons that follow,
judgment is granted for the Commissioner.
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 13). By Order
entered April 16, 2018 (DN 14), the parties were notified
that oral arguments would not be held unless a written
request therefor was filed and granted. No such request was
protectively filed applications for Disability Insurance
Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on June 2, 2014
(Tr. 16, 318-25, 326-31). Plaintiff alleged that she became
disabled on February 5, 2014 as a result of herniated disc
disease in the back and joint/deteriorating bone disease in
the upper body and neck (Tr. 16, 385). Administrative Law
Judge Teresa A. Kroenecke (“ALJ”) conducted a
video hearing from Louisville, Kentucky on May 23, 2017 (Tr.
16, ). Plaintiff and her non-attorney representative, John R.
Sharpensteen, III, participated from Elizabethtown, Kentucky
(Id.). William R. Harpool, an impartial vocational
expert, also participated and testified during the hearing
decision dated July 14, 2017, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
met the insured status requirement of the Social Security Act
through June 30, 2018 (Tr. 19). The ALJ evaluated
Plaintiff's adult disability claim pursuant to the
five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the
Commissioner (Tr. 16-32). At the first step, the ALJ found
that although Plaintiff attempted to work from April 2016 to
about September 2016 at the LG&E Power Plant, this work
activity was an unsuccessful work attempt (Id.).
Therefore, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since February 5, 2014, the
alleged onset date (Id.).
second step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the
following severe impairments: lumbar degenerative disc
disease, cervical degenerative disc disease, and non-dominant
left shoulder degenerative joint disease (Tr. 19). The ALJ
also determined that Plaintiff's previously diagnosed
adjustment disorder is a non-severe mental impairment because
it causes no more than minimal limitations in her ability to
perform basic work activities (Tr. 19-20). 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. 20-21).
fourth step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the following
residual functional capacity (“RFC”):
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that
since February 5, 2014, the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except her pushing/pulling
with her non-dominant left upper extremity is limited to
occasionally and only occasional overhead reaching with her
left upper extremity. The claimant is limited to no more than
occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching,
crawling, and climbing of ramps and stairs but no climbing of
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She is limited to no exposure
to vibration or to hazards, such as unprotected heights
and/or moving mechanical parts. The claimant is allowed to
alternate into the sitting position from the standing
position and/or from walking every 30-45 minutes for 2-3
minutes while at her workstation. Further, the claimant is
allowed to alternate into the standing position from the
sitting position every 30-45 minutes for 2-3 minutes while at
(Tr. 21). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any of her
past relevant work (Tr. 28).
proceeded to the fifth step where he classified Plaintiff as
closely approaching advanced age (age 50-54) prior to the May
23, 2017 administrative hearing (Tr. 29). The ALJ classified
Plaintiff as advanced age (age 55 or older) beginning May 23,
2017, because she turned age 55 on June 11, 2017
(Id.). The ALJ found Plaintiff has a limited
education and is able to communicate in English
(Id.). The ALJ indicated that transferability of job
skills was not an issue in this case because Plaintiff's
past relevant work was unskilled (Tr. 30). The ALJ concluded
that prior to May 23, 2017, there were jobs that existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
could have performed given her age, education, work
experience, and RFC (Tr. 30-31). The ALJ also found Plaintiff
was disabled beginning May 23, 2017 pursuant to
Medical-Vocational Rule 202.01 (Tr. 31). Thus, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff was not disabled prior to May 23,
2017, but became disabled on that date and has remained
disabled through the date of the decision, July 14, 2017 (Tr.
timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the
ALJ's decision (Tr. 316-17). The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-4).
by the Court is limited to determining whether the findings
set forth in the final decision of the Commissioner are
supported by “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). “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 “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)).
previously mentioned, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision
(Tr. 1-4). 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 ...