United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Brent Brennenstuhl, United States Magistrate Judge
the Court is the complaint (DN 1) of Linda Williams seeking
judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN
14) and Defendant (DN 19) have filed a Fact and Law Summary.
For the reasons that follow, the undersigned orders that
judgment be 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 10). By Order
entered May 30, 2018 (DN 11), the parties were notified that
oral arguments would not be held unless a written request was
filed and granted. No such request was filed.
filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI),
on April 11, 2011 (DN 9-5 PageID # 292). The application
claimed Williams's disability began on March 14, 2011 and
is the result of a “weak heart” and
“breathing problems” (DN 9-6 PageID # 342-346).
Administrative Law Judge Kevin R. Martin (ALJ) conducted a
hearing on May 23, 2013 (DN 9-2 PageID # 130-184). Williams
was present and testified. (Id. at 137). Sharon Lane
was also present and testified as an impartial vocational
expert (Id. at 176).
decision dated August 1, 2013, ALJ Martin evaluated
Williams's disability claim pursuant to the five-step
sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner
(Id. at 112). At the first step, the ALJ found
Williams has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since April 11, 2011, the application date (Id. at
114). At the second step, the ALJ determined that Williams
has the following severe impairments: non-ischemic
cardiomyopathy status post single chamber automated
implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, hypertension,
emphysema; and degenerative disc disease of the cervical
spine (Id.). At the third step, the ALJ concluded
that Williams does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals one of the
impairments listed in 20 CFR 404, Subpart P. Appendix 1
(Id. at 115).
fourth step, the ALJ found Williams has the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
CFR 416.967(b) with certain limited exceptions (Id.
at 116). The ALJ determined Williams can perform past
relevant work as an insurance specialist and other jobs in
available in the national economy (Id. at 121-122).
The ALJ ruled Williams has not been under a disability since
April 11, 2011 (Id. at 123).
timely filed a request to the Appeals Council to review the
ALJ's decision (DN 9-10 PageID # 1342). Her request was
denied (Id.). Williams then sought review of the
decision from this Court. This Court reversed the
Commissioner's decision and remanded the matter for
further consideration (Id. at 1349).
reconsidered Williams's case and issued an unfavorable
opinion (DN 9-9 PageID # 1241). The ALJ reached the same
conclusions at steps 1-3 and the residual functional capacity
at the fourth step as the first decision. However, the new
ruling found Williams had no past relevant work.
(Id. at 1245-1256). At the fifth step, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner to show there is a significant
number of jobs in the national economy. Here, the ALJ found
that Williams can perform a significant number of jobs in the
national economy (Id. at 1255-1256). The ALJ found
Williams has not been under a disability from April 11, 2011
through the date of the decision, March 8, 2017 (Id.
at 1256). The Appeals Council again denied Williams's
request for review (Id. at 1235). Williams returns
to this Court to reverse and/or remand the ALJ's decision
(DN 14-1 PageID # 2211).
by this 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
(DN 14-1 PageID # 1235). When the Appeals Council denied
Williams's request for review of the ALJ's decision,
it 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 C.F.R. § 404.981;
Cline v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 96 F.3d 146, 148
(6th Cir. 1996); Cotton v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 692,
695-696 (6th Cir. 1993).
Commissioner's Sequential Evaluation Process The Social
Security Act authorizes payment of Disability Insurance
Benefits and Supplemental Security Income to persons with
disabilities. 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. (Title II
Disability Insurance Benefits), 1381 et seq. (Title XVI
Supplemental Security Income). The term
“disability” is defined as an
[I]nability to engage in any 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 twelve (12) months.
42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) (Title II),
1382c(a)(3)(A) (Title XVI); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a);
Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 214
(2002); Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th
Commissioner has promulgated regulations setting forth a
five-step sequential evaluation process for evaluating a
disability claim. See “Evaluation of
disability in general, ” 20 C.F.R. §416.920. The
evaluation proceeds as follows:
1) Is the plaintiff engaged in substantial gainful activity?
2) Does the plaintiff have a medically determinable
impairment or combination of impairments that satisfies the
duration requirement and significantly limits his or her
ability to do basic work activities?
3) Does the plaintiff have an impairment that meets or
medically equals the criteria of a listed impairment within
4) Does the plaintiff have the residual functional capacity
to return to his or her past relevant work?
5) Does the plaintiff's residual functional capacity,
age, education, and past work experience allow him or her to
perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy?
Here, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim at the fifth step
(DN 9-9 PageID # 1255-56).
is now challenging the ALJ's finding that she has the
residual functional capacity to perform a range of light work
as defined in 20 C.F.R. §967(b), with certain
limitations. Specifically, Williams alleges the ALJ
erroneously discounted the opinion of her treating physician,
Dr. Paul Moore, and gave strong weight to the opinion of Dr.
David Swan, the non-examining state agency physician. (DN
14-1 Page ID # 2211-2218). Williams also contests the
ALJ's finding at step five that she can perform a
significant amount of jobs in the national economy (DN 14-1
PageID # 2223).
argues the weight assigned to the opinion of her treating
physician, Dr. Paul Moore, is not supported by substantial
evidence. Williams complains that the ALJ's decision was
based on inconsistencies between the controlling
physicians' opinion and objective medical evidence but
adds that the ALJ “provided no reasoning as to why any
of this evidence was so inconsistent to not afford great or
controlling weight to Dr. Moore's opinion” (Id.