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Abbott v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division

May 1, 2019

RODNEY ABBOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove United States District Judge

         Rodney Abbot seeks judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, which denied Abbott's claim for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits. Abbott 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 Abbott's Motion for Summary Judgment and GRANT the Commissioner's.

         I

         A

         Plaintiff Rodney Abbott filed an application for Title II disability insurance benefits and Title XVI supplemental social security in June 2015, alleging disability beginning April 1, 2015 in both claims. [Transcript (hereinafter, “Tr.”) 214-24, 249.] Abbott's claims were denied initially in October 2015 and upon reconsideration in December 2015. [Tr. 15.] At Abbott's request, a hearing was held on July 19, 2017, after which the Administrative Law Judge denied Abbott's claims. [Tr. 30-78.] The Appeals Council declined to review, making the ALJ's December 26, 2017 decision the final agency decision for purposes of judicial review.

         To evaluate a claim of disability for both Title II disability insurance benefit claims and Title XVI supplemental security income 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 (supplemental security income claims).[1] 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 mental 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. § 404.1545.

         Fourth, 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. § 404.1520(f).

         Through 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).

         At the outset of this case, the ALJ determined that Abbott met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 30, 2016. [Tr. 18]; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.131. Then at step one, the ALJ found Abbott had not engaged ins substantial gainful activity since April 1, 2015, the alleged disability onset date. [Tr. 18.] At step two, the ALJ found Abbott suffered from the following severe impairments: arthritis; obesity; degeneration of the cervical and lumbar spine; status post motor vehicle collision in February 2015; degeneration of the hands and feet with pre-ganglion cyst; hypothyroidism; anemia; hypertension; history of knee arthroscopy; history of pituitary adenoma and colon cancer with diverticulitis; migraines; depression; and anxiety. Id. At step three, the ALJ determined Abbott's combination of impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404 or 416. [Tr. 18-19.] Before advancing to step four, the ALJ considered the record and determined that Abbott possessed the following residual functioning capacity:

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the claimant can lift 20 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently; stand or walk for 6 hours in an 8hour workday, for up to 30 minutes at a time; sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, for up to 30 minutes at a time; perform unlimited pushing or pulling up to the exertional limitations; unlimited balance; occasional reaching overhead bilaterally; frequent handling and fingering bilaterally; no more than occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling or climbing ramps or stairs, but no climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no work in areas of concentrated cold; no work in areas of concentrated humidity; no work in areas of concentrated, full body vibration; no work around dangerous, moving machinery or unprotected heights; no more than simple, routine work; can persist in attention, concentration and pace for two-hour intervals necessary to complete simple tasks; no more than occasional interaction with co-workers or supervisors, but more than occasional contact with the general public; no more than occasional changes in workplace setting.

[Tr. 20.] After explaining Abbott's RFC, the ALJ found at step four that, based on his RFC, his age, education, and work experience there are jobs in the national economy that Abbott can perform. Accordingly, the ALJ found at step five that Abbott is not disabled pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1569(a) and 416.969(a).

         B

         The 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. 1984)).

         To 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 ...


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