United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London
JERRY LEE BLAKELY, JR. PLAINTIFF
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration DEFENDANT
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. Bunning, United States District Judge.
brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) 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.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
7, 2016, Plaintiff Jerry Lee Blakely, Jr. protectively filed
for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits
(DIB) under Title II. (Tr. 15). This application alleged
disability beginning on June 30, 2016. (Tr. 15). The
application was initially denied, and again denied on
reconsideration. (Tr. 15). At Plaintiff's request, an
administrative hearing was conducted on October 11, 2017
before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Joyce Francis. (Tr. 15,
24). On January 18, 2018, ALJ Francis ruled that Plaintiff
was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 12-24). This decision
became the final decision of the Commissioner on August 15,
2018 when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review. (Tr. 1-3).
filed the instant action on September 11, 2018 alleging that
the Commissioner's decision was not supported by
substantial evidence. (Doc. # 1). The matter has culminated
in cross-motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for
adjudication. (Docs. # 7 and 9).
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).
The ALJ's Determination
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. 1-3).
at Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since June 30, 2016, the alleged
onset date of the disability. (Tr. 17). At Step Two, the ALJ
determined that the Plaintiff has the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and
cervical spine, and status post cervical spinal fusion. (Tr.
17). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's other
impairments-hypertension, dyslipidemia, mild valvular aortic
stenosis, mild binaural hearing loss, left cheek abscess,
anxiety, and depression-caused no more than minimal
limitations on his ability to work. (Tr. 17-19). At Step
Three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meet or
medically equal the severity of one of the impairments listed
in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 19-20).
Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff possesses the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to perform work at the light
exertional level as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b),
with the following modifications and limitations: claimant
can frequently climb ramps and stairs; can frequently stoop,
kneel, crouch, and crawl; can frequently be exposed to
extreme cold and vibration; can frequently be exposed to
unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery; and can
never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. (Tr. 20). Based on
this RFC and relying on the testimony of a vocational expert
(VE), the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was unable to
perform his past relevant work as a company laborer. (Tr.
22-23). Thus, the ALJ proceeded to Step Five where she
determined, informed by testimony of the VE, that there were
other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy that the Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 23-24).
Accordingly, the ALJ ruled that the Plaintiff was not under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act. (Tr. 24).
advances two main arguments in the memorandum in support of
his Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. # 7-1). First,
Plaintiff claims that the “determination that [he] is
not disabled is not supported by substantial evidence.”
Id. at 7-12. Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ
“failed to properly evaluate [his] ...