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 Zoran Cuckovic
("Plaintiff") 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 final decision of the Commissioner is
REVERSED and this matter is
REMANDED, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), to the Commissioner for further proceedings.
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 7). By Order
entered July 20, 2018 (DN 12), the parties were notified that
oral arguments would not be held unless a written request
therefor was filed and granted. No such request was filed.
protectively filed applications for Disability Insurance
Benefits and Supplemental Security Income payments on August
22, 2014 (Tr. 13, 193, 197). Plaintiff alleged that he became
disabled on April 28, 2014 as a result of a back problem
involving a disc extrusion with left nerve root pressure at
¶ 5 and an extrusion on the right nerve root at ¶ 1
(Tr. 13, 217). Administrative Law Judge Teresa A. Kroenecke
("ALJ") conducted a hearing on December 13, 2016,
in Louisville, Kentucky (Tr. 29). Plaintiff was present and
represented by his attorney Trevor Smith (Id.). Also
present and testifying was Courtney Stiles, a vocational
decision dated February 17, 2017, the ALJ evaluated this
adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential
evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr.
13-23). At the first step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 28, 2014
the alleged onset date (Tr. 15). At the second step, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff has the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine
and obesity (Id.). Notably, at the second step, the
ALJ also determined that Plaintiff's medically
determinable mental impairment of depression was a nonsevere
impairment (Tr. 15-16). 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. 16-17).
fourth step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual
functional capacity to perform less than a full range of
sedentary work because he needs to alternate between a
sitting and standing/walking position every 30 to 45 minutes
for 2 to 3 minutes at the workstation and he requires a cane
to ambulate; he may occasionally stoop, balance, crouch, and
climb ramps and stairs, but he may not operate foot controls,
kneel, crawl, or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he must
avoid concentrated exposure to wetness, humidity, vibrations,
and hot and cold temperature extremes; he must avoid all
exposure to hazards such as heights and dangerous machinery
(Tr. 17). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any of his
past relevant work (Tr. 21).
proceeded to the fifth step where he considered
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, age, education,
and past work experience as well as testimony from the
vocational expert (Tr. 21-22). The ALJ found that Plaintiff
is capable of performing a significant number of jobs that
exist in the national economy (Id.). Therefore, the
ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a
"disability," as defined in the Social Security
Act, from April 28, 2014 through the date of the decision,
February 17, 2017 (Tr. 22-23).
timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the
ALJ's decision (Tr. 190-92). 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 ...