United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Covington
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
L. Banning United States District 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 denying Plaintiff's
eligibility for Social Security disability insurance
benefits. (Doc. # 1). 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
Robert Binder protectively filed a Title II application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits,
alleging disability beginning on September 10, 2011. (Doc. #
9 at 1; Tr. 264-79). Binder also protectively filed a Title
XVI application for supplemental security income. (Tr.
264-79). Binder was forty-four years old at the time of
filing, and alleged that he was unable to work due to
problems with his back, as well as diabetes, high blood
pressure, high cholesterol, and depression. (Tr. 134). The
claims were denied initially on July 17, 2014, and again upon
reconsideration on November 6, 2014. (Tr. 184-191, 192-195,
Binder's request, an administrative hearing was conducted
on October 12, 2016, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
Christopher S. Tindale. (Tr. 104-133). On December 7, 2016,
ALJ Tindale issued his decision. (Tr. 14-29). The ALJ noted
that Binder was “insured through September 30,
2011.” (Tr. 14). He found, however, that Binder's
impairments did not become disabling until November 12, 2014;
accordingly, the ALJ ruled that Binder was not under a
disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act at
any time through September 30, 2011-the last date that Binder
met the insured status requirements of the Social Security
Act. Id. at 14. The ALJ's decision became the
final decision of the Commissioner on November 29, 2017, when
the Appeals Council denied Binder's request for review.
filed the instant action on January 18, 2018, alleging the
ALJ's decision was “not supported by substantial
evidence, ” and was “erroneous.” (Doc. # 1
at 1). The matter has culminated in cross-motions for summary
judgment, which are now ripe for adjudication. (Docs. # 9 and
Overview of the Process
determine disability, the ALJ conducts a five-step analysis.
Step One considers whether the claimant can still perform
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 or her past
relevant work; and Step Five, whether a significant number of
jobs exist in the national economy that a claimant can
perform. Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127
F.3d 525, 529 (6th Cir. 1997) (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520). The burden of proof rests with the Plaintiff on
the first four steps. Jones v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). 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.”
Id. The ALJ's decision is considered the
“final decision” of the Commissioner, and, after
a denial of a plaintiff's request for review of the
ALJ's decision by the Social Security
Administration's Appeals Council, gives rise to judicial
review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Thacker v.
Berryhill, No. 16-CV-114, 2017 WL 653546, at *1 (E.D.
Ky. Feb. 16, 2017).
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). Pursuant to this standard, 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
so long as it is supported by substantial evidence-even if
the Court might have decided the case differently. 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 & 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's Determination
initial matter, the ALJ determined that Binder met the
insured status requirements of the Social Security Act
through September 30, 2011. (Tr. 16). The ALJ then proceeded
to the five-step sequential evaluation process to determine
whether Binder was disabled during the relevant time period.
At Step One, the ALJ found that Binder had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since September 10, 2011, the
alleged onset date of disability. Id. At Step Two,
the ALJ determined that Binder had the following severe
impairments: (1) disorders of the spine; (2) diabetes
mellitus; (3) obstructive sleep apnea; (4) chronic heart
failure; (5) coronary artery disease; (6) mood disorder; and
(7) anxiety disorder. Id. At Step Three, the ALJ
concluded that Binder did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one
of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. Id. at 19.
Four, the ALJ found that, prior to November 12, 2014, Binder
possessed the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a
reduced range of sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1567(a) and 404.967(a), with the following
[Binder] could have occasionally climbed ramps and stairs,
but never have climbed ladders, ropes or scaffolds. He could
have occasional[ly] stooped, kneeled, crouched and crawled.
He was limited to simple, routine tasks consistent with
unskilled work in a work environment free of fast production
rate or pace work. He could have had occasional contact with
the public and frequent contact with co-workers and
supervisors. He must have worked in a low-stress environment
defined as having only occasional changes in the work setting
and only occasional decision making required.
(Tr. 20). Based upon this RFC and relying on the testimony of
a vocational expert (VE), see Id. at 129, the ALJ
concluded that Binder was unable to perform his past relevant
work as a freight conductor or cargo plane loader/unloader.
Id. at 26-27. Therefore, the ALJ proceeded to Step
Five. At Step Five, the ALJ found that no jobs existed in the
national economy that Binder could perform after November 12,
2014. Id. at 27-28. However, as to the relevant time
period, the ALJ determined that other jobs did exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that Binder could
have performed prior to November 12, 2014. Id. at
27-28. Thus, the ALJ found that ...