United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
Gregory F. Van Tatenhove United States District Judge
Jo Sowards seeks judicial review of an administrative
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, which denied
her claim for supplemental security income. Ms. Sowards
brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
alleging various errors on the part of the ALJ considering
the matter. The Court, having reviewed the record and for the
reasons set forth herein, will DENY Ms.
Sowards Motion for Summary Judgment and
GRANT the Commissioner's.
Bobbie Jo Sowards initially filed an application for Title II
disability insurance benefits on May 18, 2015, alleging
disability beginning July 1, 2012. [Transcript (hereinafter,
“Tr.”) 11.] That claim was denied first in 2015
and denied again upon reconsideration in 2016. Id.
At a hearing on May 11, 2017, Ms. Sowards amended her alleged
onset date of disability to May 18, 2015. Id.
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Susan Brock denied this
amended request on August 23, 2017. Id. at 8. The
Appeals Council denied Ms. Soward's request for review on
April 16, 2018, making the August 23 ALJ decision final.
Id. at 1; 20 C.F.R. § 422.210(a).
evaluate a claim of disability for Title II disability
insurance benefit claims, an ALJ conducts a five-step
analysis. Compare 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520
(disability insurance benefit claim) with 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920 (claims for supplemental security
income). First, if a claimant is performing a
substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(b). Second, if a claimant does not have any
impairment or combination of impairments which significantly
limit his physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities, he does not have a severe impairment and is not
“disabled” as defined by the regulations. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). Third, if a claimant's
impairments meet or equal one of the impairments listed in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, he is
“disabled.” C.F.R. § 404.1530(d). Before
moving on to the fourth step, the ALJ must use all of the
relevant evidence in the record to determine the
claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), which
assess an individual's ability to perform certain
physical and metal work activities on a sustained basis
despite any impairment experienced by the individual.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); 20 C.F.R. §
the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has the RFC to
perform the requirements of his past relevant work, and if a
claimant's impairments do not prevent him from doing past
relevant work, he is not “disabled.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(e). Fifth, if a claimant's impairments
(considering his RFC, age, education, and past work) prevent
him from doing other work that exists in the national
economy, then he is “disabled.” 20 C.F.R. §
step four of the analysis, “the claimant bears the
burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations
caused by her impairments and the fact that she is precluded
from performing her past relevant work.” Jones v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir.
2003). At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to
identify a significant number of jobs that accommodate the
claimant's profile, but the claimant retains the ultimate
burden of proving his lack of residual functional capacity.
Id.; Jordan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 548
F.3d 417, 423 (6th Cir. 2008).
one, the ALJ found Ms. Sowards had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the alleged onset date, May 18, 2015.
Tr. at 14. At step two, the ALJ found Ms. Sowards to suffer
from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc
disease of the cervical spine, lumbago, chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease (COPD), congestive heart failure, ischemic
heart disease (status-post stent replacement), anxiety,
depression, generalized osteoarthritis with a mild
inflammatory component, and obesity. Id. At step
three, the ALJ determined her combination of impairments did
not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in
C.F.R. Part 404 or Part 416. Id. at 15. Before
moving on to step four, the ALJ considered the record and
determined that Ms. Sowards possessed the following residual
functioning capacity (RFC):
After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that [Ms. Sowards] has the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
CFR 416.967(b), except she can only occasionally climb ramps,
stairs, ladders, ropes, and scaffolding. The claimant can
frequently balance and stoop, and she can occasionally kneel,
crouch, and crawl. She may have frequent exposure to extreme
heat and cold, vibrations, machinery, and unprotected
heights. The claimant can understand and carry out both
simple and complex instructions and tasks. Any workplace
changes should occur only occasionally and should be
Id. at 18. After explaining the RFC, the ALJ found
at step four that Ms. Sowards had no relevant past work, as
her earnings fell below the substantial gainful activity
level. Id. at 23. However, upon considering her age,
RFC, and education, the ALJ found she was capable of
performing jobs existing in the national economy.
Id. at 24. Accordingly, the ALJ determined at step
five that Ms. Sowards was not disabled since May 18, 2015.
Id. at 25. Ms. Sowards filed this action for review
on May 21, 2018. [R. 1.]
Court's review is generally limited to whether there is
substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's
decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Wright v.
Massanari, 321 F.3d 611, 614 (6th Cir. 2003);
Shelman v. Heckler, 821 F.2d 316, 319-20 (6th Cir.
1987). “Substantial evidence” is “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) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). The substantial evidence standard
“presupposes that there is a zone of choice within
which [administrative] decision makers can go either way,
without interference by the courts.” Mullen v.
Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (quoting
Baker v. Heckler, 730 F.2d 1147, 1150 (8th Cir.
determine whether substantial evidence exists, courts must
examine the record as a whole. Cutlip, 25 F.3d at
286 (citing Kirk v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 535 (6th Cir. 1981), cert.
denied, 461 U.S. 957 (1983)). However, a reviewing court
may not conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts
in the evidence, or make credibility determinations.
Ulman v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 693 F.3d 709, 713
(6th Cir. 2012); see also Bradley v. Sec'y of Health
& Human Servs., 862 F.2d 1224, 1228 (6th Cir. 1988).
Rather, if the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence, it must be affirmed even if the
reviewing court would decide the matter differently, and even
if substantial evidence also ...