United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. Banning, 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
March 8, 2016, Plaintiff Robert Wayne Yaden protectively
filed for a period of disability and Disability Insurance
Benefits (DIB) under Title II, alleging disability beginning
March 8, 2015. (Tr. 11). Plaintiff alleged that he was unable
to work due to, inter alia, high blood pressure,
high cholesterol, bad knees, degenerated discs in neck,
abdominal aneurism, and worn-out cartilage in thumbs. (Tr.
137). The application was initially denied, and again on
reconsideration. (Tr. 11). At Plaintiff's request, an
administrative hearing was conducted on August 9, 2017 before
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Joyce Francis. Id. On
October 25, 2017, ALJ Francis ruled that Plaintiff was not
entitled to benefits. (Tr. 11-20). This decision became the
final decision of the Commissioner on April 12, 2018 when the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review.
filed the instant action on May 21, 2018 claiming 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
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, then the
Commissioner's findings must be affirmed, regardless of
whether 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 in this case. 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 March 8, 2015, the alleged
onset date of disability. (Tr. 13). At Step Two, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff has the following severe
impairment: arthritis of carpometacarpal joint of thumbs.
Id. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's other
impairments-abdominal aortic aneurysm, chronic cholecystitis,
mild hepatomegaly, right renal cyst, hypertension,
hyperlipidemia, gastroesophageal reflux disease,
hyperglycemia, and obesity-were not severe. (Tr. 13-14). 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. 14-15).
At Step Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to perform a full range of work at
all exertional levels, except he can only frequently finger
and feel. (Tr. 15-18). Based on this RFC, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff was able to perform his past
relevant work as a postmaster. (Tr. 18). Even though
Plaintiff failed to meet his burden at Step Four to show he
could not perform his past work, the ALJ still proceeded to
Step Five and determined that there were also other jobs
existing in significant numbers in the national economy that
Plaintiff could perform. The ALJ was not required to proceed
to Step Five because Plaintiff did not meet his burden at
Step Four. See infra; see also 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv) (“If you can still do your
past relevant work, we find that you are not
disabled.”). Plaintiff, however, did not challenge the
ALJ's findings at this step, so the Court will not review
the ALJ's Step-Five determination. (Tr. 18-19).
Accordingly, the ALJ ruled that Plaintiff was not under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act. (Tr. 20).
presents three arguments in support of his Motion for Summary
Judgment. (Doc. # 7-1). First, Plaintiff claims that the
ALJ's RFC determination is not supported by substantial
evidence. Id. at 8-11. Next, Plaintiff asserts that
the ALJ failed to properly evaluate Plaintiff's
subjective complaints of pain. Id. at 11-13.
Finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's determination
that Plaintiff could return to his past work is not supported
by substantial evidence. Id. at 14-16. The Court
will consider each argument in turn.
The ALJ's RFC determination is supported by substantial
is “an administrative assessment of the extent to which
an individual's medically determinable impairment(s),
including any related symptoms, such as pain, may cause
physical or mental limitations or restrictions that may
affect his or her capacity to do work-related physical and
mental activities.” SSR 96-8p, 61 Fed. Reg. 34474,
34475 (July 2, 1996). Stated another way, the RFC is
“what an individual can still do despite his or her
limitations.” Id. “In assessing the
total limiting effects of [the claimant's] impairment(s)
and any related symptoms, [the ALJ] will consider all of the
medical and nonmedical evidence” in the record. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545(e). The ALJ is only required to
incorporate those limitations that she finds credible in the
RFC assessment. Irvin v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 573
Fed.Appx. 498, 502 (6th Cir. 2014). A reviewing court gives
“the ALJ's determinations of credibility great
weight and deference particularly since the ALJ has the
opportunity . . . of observing a witness's demeanor while
testifying.” Jones, 336 F.3d at 476.
argues that the medical evidence in the record does not
support the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff has the
RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels,
except he can only frequently finger and feel. (Doc. # 7-1 at
8-11). Plaintiff claims that “when the record . . . is
considered in its entirety, the combined effects of Mr.
Yaden's physical impairments, reflect that he could not
perform a wide range of even light work on a regular and
sustained basis.” Id. at 9. Plaintiff makes
three assertions in support of his argument. First, Plaintiff
suggests that the ALJ improperly weighed the severity of
Plaintiff's medical impairments. Id. at 10.
Second, Plaintiff claims that the ALJ did not consider the
entirety of the record. Id. at 10-11. Finally,
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ should have given controlling
weight to the medical opinions of treating source Dr.
Christopher Basham. Id. at 11. The Court will
address each argument separately.
Severity of Impairments
Plaintiff claims that the ALJ erred by failing to find his
aortic aneurysm, chronic cholecystitis, mild hepatomegaly,
right renal cysts, hypertension, hyperlipidemia,
gastroesophageal reflux disease, hyperglycemia, and obesity
to be severe impairments during Step Two of her analysis.
(Id. at 10). Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's
finding that his only severe impairment is arthritis of
carpometacarpal joint of thumbs is “completely
erroneous” and claims that he has additional severe