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Rose v. Berryhill

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

May 30, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Gregory F.Van Tatenhove, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Brian Keith Rose seeks judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, which denied Rose's claim for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits. Mr. Rose 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 Mr. Rose's motion for summary judgment but will GRANT judgment in favor of the Commissioner.



         Plaintiff Brian Keith Rose filed an application for disability insurance benefits in February 2015 and for supplemental security income in April 2015. [Tr. 173]. The record shows that Mr. Rose suffers from Hepatitis B with vasculitis; neuropathy; kidney disease; and degenerative disc disease. [Tr. 175]. The severity of Plaintiff's kidney-related symptoms varies, and he was hospitalized at two different times in 2015-once for nearly a month-when said symptoms became acute. [Tr. 177-78]. Moreover, Mr. Rose alleges that he suffers from pain and numbness in his feet, as well as back pain caused by inflammation of the degenerative disc disease and other symptoms; as a result, Mr. Rose alleges that he is unable to stand or sit continuously for more than 10 minutes. [Tr. 177]. The disability and supplemental income claims, stemming from the aforementioned ailments, were denied initially on April 23, 2015, and upon reconsideration on October 16, 2015. [Tr. 173]. Mr. Rose requested a hearing, which was held before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Dennis Hansen on January 27, 2017. Id. Following the hearing, the ALJ issued a final decision denying both of Rose's claims for benefits. [Tr. 180].

         To evaluate a claim for disability insurance benefit claims, an ALJ conducts a five-step analysis. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. 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.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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 assesses 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.; Jordon v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 548 F.3d 417, 423 (6th Cir. 2008).

         ALJ Hansen's written decision proceeds sequentially through the five steps. [Tr. 170]. As an initial matter, the ALJ found that Mr. Rose met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2016. Id. At the first step, ALJ Hansen found that Rose had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 15, 2014, the alleged onset date. Id. Since then, Rose has been drawing food stamps and relying primarily on contributions from his parents in order to pay his bills. [Tr. 1085].

         Next, at the second step, ALJ Hansen found that Mr. Rose has the following severe impairments: Hepatitis B with vasculitis, neuropathy, kidney disease, and degenerative disc disease. [Tr. 175]. The ALJ also considered the claimant's additional impairments of tobacco abuse, opiate addiction, and hypertension, but found that those ailments would not “cause more than minimal impact on work functioning and therefore under Social Security regulations they are not severe impairments.” [Tr. 176]. With respect to hypertension, ALJ Hansen's finding stemmed from testimony and exhibits in the record showing that the claimant's blood pressure has normalized through improved kidney function and treatment with commonly prescribed medications. Id. Further, although Mr. Rose had problems with opiate consumption in the past, the ALJ found that currently the claimant does not abuse or use opiates to an extent that supports a finding of “disabled.” Id. Lastly, the ALJ found there was no evidence that the claimant's long-term tobacco use affects his capacity to work. Id. As such, ALJ Hansen found that the claimant's tobacco abuse, hypertension, and opiate addiction “no more than minimally limit the performance of basic work activity and, therefore, do not constitute severe impairments.” Id. At step three, ALJ Hansen found that Mr. Rose's impairments-even when considered collectively-do not meet or equate to the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404 or Part 416. Id.

         Before proceeding to step four, ALJ Hansen considered the entire record and determined that Mr. Rose possessed the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), with certain limitations described as follows:

[Mr. Rose] can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; never be exposed to unprotected heights or dangerous moving machinery; and never operate a motor vehicle at work. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; can occasionally operate foot controls; and can occasionally be exposed to vibration, extreme heat, and extreme cold.

Id. After explaining how he determined Rose's RFC (see Tr. 176-79], ALJ Hansen found at step four that, based on this RFC, Rose is unable to perform any of his past relevant very heavy work as a house repairer. [Tr. 179].

         Ultimately, at step five, the ALJ determined that, “Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform. [Tr. 179]. Relying on the vocational expert's testimony that Mr. Rose has the capacity to fulfill “light unskilled occupations” (e.g. ticket taker, rental clerk, office helper), ALJ Hansen found that Rose is capable of ...

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