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 Allen Chinn seeking
judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN
17) and Defendant (DN 22) 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
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 11). By Order
entered July 17, 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.
filed an application for disability insurance benefits on
October 25, 2013 (Tr. 328). He also filed an application for
supplemental security income on September 30, 2013 (Tr.336).
In both applications, Chinn alleged that he became disabled
on September 5, 2013 as a result of: heart murmur; heart
attack; triple bypass surgery; crushed right shoulder;
“messed up C5, C6 and C7;” and severed hand
tendons (Tr. 151). Administrative Law Judge Amber Downs
(''ALJ'') conducted a hearing on August 13,
2015 in Paducah, Kentucky. A second hearing was conducted via
video on March 1, 2017. The ALJ participated from Tampa,
Florida and Plaintiff represented by counsel, Sara J. Martin,
participated from Owensboro, Kentucky. Also present and
testifying at the 2015 hearing was Tom Wagner, M.D. an
impartial medical expert and Kenneth Boaz, an impartial
vocational expert. At the 2017 hearing, Thomas Passo, M.D.
testified as an impartial medical expert and Lynn Jones as an
impartial vocational expert.
decision dated April 10, 2017, the ALJ evaluated this adult
disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential
evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr.
19-29). At the first step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 5,
2013, the alleged onset date (Tr. 19). At the second step,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's ischemic heart
disease, depression, anxiety, degenerative disc disease,
avascular necrosis of left hip, and degenerative joint
disease are ''severe'' impairments within the
meaning of the regulations (Tr. 19). Notably, at the second
step, the ALJ also determined that Plaintiff's
hypertension and insomnia are ''non-severe''
impairments within the meaning of the regulations (Tr. 19).
At the third step, the ALJ concluded that prior to October
12, 2015, the date Chinn became disabled, he did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1
fourth step, the ALJ found that prior to October 12, 2015,
the date Chinn became disabled, he had the residual
functional capacity to perform less than a full range of
sedentary work (Tr. 21). More specifically, the ALJ found
that Chinn can lift 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10
pounds frequently; stand/walk two hours in a workday; and sit
6 hours in a workday. He can occasionally climb ladders,
ropes and scaffolds. He can occasionally be exposed to
extreme cold and heat. He can occasionally perform right
overhead reaching and frequently perform all other reaching
on the right. He needs a sit/stand alternative after a period
of 30 minutes. He is limited to simple routine tasks,
occasional complex or detailed tasks, occasional contact with
the general public and supervisors. He can have no sustained
attention to detail and no strict quota based or face paced
work environments. He cannot work in a loud or confusing work
environment. (Tr. 21-22). Relying on testimony from the
vocational expert, the ALJ found that since September 5,
2014, Chinn has been unable to perform any of his past
relevant work (Tr. 27).
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. 27-28). The ALJ found that prior to
October 12, 2015 Chinn is capable of performing a significant
No. of jobs that exist in the national economy (Tr. 27). The
ALJ determined that beginning on October 12, 2015 the
severity of claimant's impairments met the criteria of
4.04C of 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Tr. 28).
Plaintiff timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to
review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 326-27). The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the
ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-7).
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). A 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. 1-7). 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 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
Commissioner's Sequential Evaluation Process
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. §§
404.1505(a), 416.905(a); Barnhart v. Walton, 535
U.S. 212, 214 (2002); Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d
918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990).
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. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. In
summary, the evaluation proceeds as follows:
1) Is the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity?
2) Does the claimant 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 claimant have an impairment that meets or
medically equals the criteria of a listed impairment ...