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Sizemore v. Berryhill

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

February 1, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         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 21, 2015, Plaintiff Michael L. Sizemore filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. (Tr. 200-207). The application alleged a disability onset date of April 20, 2010, when Sizemore was thirty-four years old.[1](Tr. 200). Sizemore alleged that he was unable to work due to a severe concussion he sustained, as well as a back injury, neck injury, injuries to his shoulders, a left-knee injury, major depression, liver disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and high blood pressure. (Tr. 239). The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 134, 145). At Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was conducted on January 26, 2017, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Dennis Hansen. (Tr. 39). On May 11, 2017, ALJ Hansen ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits because he was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2014, the date last insured. (Tr. 21-33). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on March 20, 2018, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1).

         Plaintiff filed the instant action on April 25, 2018, alleging that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence, was contrary to law, and applied the 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 and 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, as an initial matter, the ALJ found that Plaintiff Sizemore last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on September 30, 2014. (Tr. 27). At Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from his alleged onset date of April 21, 2014, through the last-insured date of September 30, 2014. Id. At Step Two, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had the following severe impairments through the last-insured Dated: degenerative disc disease, rheumatoid arthritis, status post-bilateral shoulder surgery, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Id. At Step Three, the ALJ concluded that, through the date last insured, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 28).

         At Step Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff possessed the residual functional capacity (RFC) through the last-insured date to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), with the following limitations:

[Sizemore] can never reach overhead; can frequently reach in all other directions; can frequently climb, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; can frequently handle, finger, and feel [and] [m]entally, he can understand and remember simple instructions and carry out simple tasks.

(Tr. 29). Based upon this RFC and relying upon the testimony of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work as a company laborer and machine mechanic. (Tr. 32). Thus, the ALJ proceeded to Step Five where he determined, informed by the testimony of the VE, that there were other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff Sizemore could have performed through the last-insured date. Id. Accordingly, ALJ Hansen ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to ...

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