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Wilson v. Berryhill

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

January 18, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration DEFENDANT


          David L. Bunning Jr., United States District Judge

         Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Court, having reviewed the record and the parties' dispositive motions, and for the reasons set forth herein, will affirm the Commissioner's decision.


         On April 27, 2015, Plaintiff Alisha Ann Wilson filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, as well as a Title XVI application for supplemental social security income, alleging disability beginning June 30, 2014. (Tr. 199, 215). Plaintiff was thirty-one years old at the time of filing, and she alleged that she was unable to work due to problems with depression and anxiety, being morbidly obese, and having leg pain. (Tr. 199, 215). Plaintiff's application was denied initially, and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 197-198, 231-266).

         At Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was conducted on January 26, 2017, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Dennis Hansen. (Tr. 178-196). On April 17, 2017, ALJ Hansen issued a written decision finding that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 11-24). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on January 3, 2018, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1). Plaintiff filed the instant action on February 19, 2018, alleging the ALJ's decision “was not supported by substantial evidence, ” was “contrary to law, ” and “applied incorrect standards.” (Doc. # 2 at 2). The matter has culminated in cross-motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for adjudication. (Docs. # 13 and 15).


         A. Standard of Review

         Judicial 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). 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, as 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).

         B. The ALJ's Determination

         To determine disability, the ALJ conducts a five-step analysis. Step One considers whether the claimant has engaged in 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 past relevant work; and Step Five, whether a significant number of other jobs exist in the national economy that the 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 claimant on Steps One through Four. 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 [the claimant's] residual functional capacity.” Id. The ALJ's determination becomes the final decision of the Commissioner if the Appeals Council denies review, as it did here. See Thacker v. Berryhill, No. 16-CV-114, 2017 WL 653546, at *1 (E.D. Ky. Feb. 16, 2017); (Tr. 1-7).

         Here, at Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 30, 2014, the alleged onset date of the disability. (Tr. 13). At Step Two, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: obesity, arthritis, asthma, anxiety, and depression. Id. At Step Three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 14-17).

         At Step Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff possesses the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), with the following modifications and limitations:

[Claimant] can lift and carry up to ten pounds; can sit for six hours and can stand or walk for four hours out of an eight-hour workday; can frequently balance; can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; and never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant can never be exposed to unprotected heights, and can have no more than occasional exposure to vibration and pulmonary irritants. She is able to understand and remember simple instructions; and can sustain attention and concentration to complete simple tasks with regular breaks every two hours. She can frequently interact with supervisors and co-workers, and occasionally interact with the public. She can adapt to routine work conditions and occasional workplace changes.

(Tr. 17). The ALJ noted that “[t]ransferability of job skills is not an issue because the claimant does not have past relevant work.” (Tr. 22). Based upon the ...

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