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Walker v. Saul

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

August 29, 2019

JAMES EUGENE WALKER PLAINTIFF
v.
ANDREW SAUL, COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION[1] DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          H. BRENT BRENNENSTUHL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         BACKGROUND

         Before the Court is the complaint (DN 1) of James Eugene Walker (“Plaintiff”) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN 14) and Defendant (DN 15) have filed a Fact and Law Summary. For the reasons that follow, the final decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED and judgment is GRANTED for 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 11). By Order entered April 15, 2019, 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

         On December 3, 2015, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (Tr. 15, 156-59). Plaintiff alleged that he became disabled on August 23, 2013 because of right knee pain, back pain, high cholesterol, irritable bowel syndrome, and acid reflux (Tr. 15, 178). Administrative Law Judge Maribeth McMahon (“ALJ”) conducted a video hearing from Paducah Kentucky (Tr. 15, 27-29). Plaintiff and his counsel, Steven Wilson, participated from Owensboro, Kentucky (Id.). Kenneth Boaz, an impartial vocational expert, also testified during the hearing (Id.).

         In a decision dated June 20, 2018, the ALJ evaluated this adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 15-22). At the first step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of August 23, 2013, through the date Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2015 (Tr. 17). At the second step, the ALJ determined Plaintiff's spine disorder and bilateral knee disorder are severe impairments (Id.). The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff's irritable bowel syndrome, high cholesterol, acid reflex, and rheumatoid arthritis are nonsevere impairments (Id.). At the third step, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1 (Tr. 18). The ALJ indicated that she had consulted appropriate listings in this case, including listings 1.02 and 1.04, but concluded the medical evidence of record failed to conclusively demonstrate a listing level of severity with respect to any listed impairment on a sustained basis (Id.).

         At the fourth step, the ALJ found from August 23, 2013 through December 31, 2015 Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a range of light work (Tr. 18). Specifically, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; he could push and pull only frequently with the lower extremities bilaterally; he could sit, stand, and walk each for 30 minutes at a time for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday, and change positions without leaving the workstation or being off task; he could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he could frequently climb ramps and stairs; he could occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; and he should avoid concentrated exposure to unprotected heights, dangerous machinery, and vibrations (Id.). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ found through the date last insured, Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work (Tr. 20).

         The ALJ proceeded to the fifth step where he considered Plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and past work experience as well as testimony from the vocational expert (Tr. 20-21). The ALJ found through the date last insured, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could have performed (Id.). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from the alleged onset date of August 23, 2013, through the date last insured of December 31, 2015 (Tr. 21).

         Plaintiff timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 150-53). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-3).

         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 Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-3). 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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