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Williams v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division

June 4, 2019

BRUCE WILLIAMS PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          H. BRENT BRENNENSTUHL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         BACKGROUND

         Before the Court is the complaint (DN 1) of Plaintiff Bruce Williams seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Williams submitted a motion for disability benefits at ¶ 21. Both Williams (DN 22) and the Commissioner (DN 25) subsequently filed Fact and Law Summaries. For the reasons that follow, the undersigned orders that judgment be granted in favor of the Commissioner.

         Pursuant 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 16). By Order entered October 12, 2018 (DN 17), 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.

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         Williams filed an application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits on September 11, 2014 (Tr. 179-182). Williams alleged that he became disabled on March 15, 2012 as a result of anxiety, right knee injury, left wrist injury, back pain, Van Willebrand's Disease, severe emotional distress, post traumatic stress from third degree burns, stress from imprisonment and being a registered sex offender, and depression (Tr. 198). Administrative Law Judge Teresa A. Kroenecke (“ALJ”) conducted a hearing via video conference on May 2, 2012. Williams appeared in Bowling Green, Kentucky and the ALJ presided from Louisville, Kentucky. Williams was not represented by counsel. Also present and testifying was impartial vocational expert, William R. Harpool.

         In a decision dated September 19, 2017 the ALJ evaluated this adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 8-32). At the first step, the ALJ found Williams did not engage in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date through his date last insured, March 31, 2017 (Tr. 14). At the second step, the ALJ determined that William's degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, history of right knee meniscectomy, depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder are “severe” impairments within the meaning of the regulations (Tr. 14). Notably, at the second step, the ALJ also determined that Williams' history of hypertension and VonWillibrand disease are “non-severe” impairments within the meaning of the regulations (Tr. 14). At the third step, the ALJ concluded that Williams does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1 (Tr. 14).

         At the fourth step, the ALJ found Williams has the residual functional capacity to perform less than a full range of light work (Tr. 16-17). More specifically, the ALJ found that Williams should be permitted the option to alternate between sitting and standing and/or walking every 30 to 45 minutes with the change in position taking no more than two to three minutes and while remaining at the work station; he can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; he should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat and cold, humidity, wetness, vibration and hazard. Williams can understand, remember, carry out short, simple, routine instructions and able to sustain attention and/or concentrate for 2-hour periods at a time and for 8 hours in the workday on short, simple, routine tasks. He can use judgment in making work-related decisions consistent with short, simple, and routine work but requires occupations with set routines and procedures and few changes during workday consistent with simple and routine tasks. He cannot perform fast paced production work and can only occasionally interact with coworkers and supervisors but with no tandem work activities and no interaction with the general public (Tr. 16-17). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ found that Williams was unable to perform any of his past relevant work through the date last insured (Tr. 24).

         The ALJ proceeded to the fifth step where he considered Williams residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience as well as testimony from the vocational expert (Tr. 25). The ALJ found that Williams is capable of performing a significant number of jobs that exist in the national economy (Tr. 25). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Williams has not been under a “disability, ” as defined in the Social Security Act, from March 15, 2012 through the date of last insured (Tr. 26). Plaintiff timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 292-97). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-6).

         CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         Standard of Review

         Review 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). “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 Amay 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)).

         As previously mentioned, the Appeals Council denied William's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-6). 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 Cir. 1993).

         The Commissioner's Sequential Evaluation Process The 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 ...


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