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Scott v. Saul

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

August 28, 2019

TEDDY L. SCOTT PLAINTIFF
v.
ANDREW SAUL, 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 Teddy Scott seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN 13) and Defendant (DN 18) have filed a Fact and Law Summary. For the reasons that follow, the undersigned orders the final decision of the Commissioner be reversed, judgment be entered in favor of Scott, and pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) this matter be remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings.

         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 9). By order entered February 21, 2019 (DN 10), the parties were notified that oral arguments would not be held unless a written request therefore was filed and granted. No such request was filed.

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         Scott protectively filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on September 25, 2015 and a subsequent application for supplemental security income on December 23, 2015 (Tr. 205-221). Scott alleged he became disabled on March 20, 2015 as a result of occupational asthma, vocal chord dysfunction, severe sleep apnea, diverticular disease, lower back pain, neurological issues, severe migraines, nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, blood in stool, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Tr. 247). Administrative Law Judge Maribeth McMahon ("ALJ") conducted a hearing on September 13, 2017 via video conference. Scott appeared in Owensboro, Kentucky and the ALJ presided from Paducah, Kentucky. Scott was represented by his attorney, Steve Wilson. Leslie F. Lloyd was present and testified as an impartial vocational expert (Tr. 17).

         In a decision dated March 8, 2018 the ALJ evaluated this adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 17-30). At the first step, the ALJ found Scott has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 20, 2015, the alleged onset date (Tr. 19). At the second step, the ALJ determined that Scott's chronic bronchitis, irritable larynx, lower back pain, headaches, major depressive disorder, and PTSD are "severe" impairments within the meaning of the regulations (Tr. 19). The ALJ also determined that Scott's diverticulitis, ulcers, GERD, sleep apnea, obesity, are "non-severe" impairments within the meaning of the regulations (Tr. 20). At the third step, the ALJ concluded that Scott does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1 (Tr. 21).

         At the fourth step, the ALJ found Scott has the residual functional capacity to perform less than the full range of light work (Tr. 23). More specifically, the ALJ found that Scott can occasionally lift and carry 20 pounds and frequently lift and carry 10 pounds; stand, sit, and walk up to 6 hours in an 8-hour workday with normal breaks; climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds occasionally; frequently climb ramps and stairs; frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Scott should avoid moderate exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation; extreme heat, cold, and humidity; concentrated exposure to vibrations, unprotected heights, and dangerous machinery. Scott can understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions; occasionally detailed instructions; maintain attention and concentration for the time required to complete simple tasks and occasionally detailed tasks. Scott can respond appropriately to supervisors, co-workers, and the public and can adapt to routine changes and avoid hazards in a work setting with routine support and structure (Tr. 23). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ found that Scott is unable to perform any of his past relevant work (Tr. 28).

         The ALJ proceeded to the fifth step where he considered Scott's residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience as well as testimony from the vocational expert (Tr. 29). The ALJ found that Scott can perform a significant number of jobs that exist in the national economy (Tr. 29). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Scott has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from March 20, 2015 through the date of the decision (Tr. 30).

         Scott timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 134-36). The Appeals Council denied Scott's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1).

         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 "may 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 Scott's's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1). 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 ...


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