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Finley v. Berryhill

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

August 29, 2019

NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Timothy Holt Finley seeks judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, which denied his claim for disability insurance benefits. Mr. Finley 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. Finley's Motion for Summary Judgment and GRANT the Commissioner's.



         Plaintiff Timothy Holt Finley initially filed an application for Title II disability insurance benefits on March 22, 2016, alleging disability beginning December 15, 2012. [Transcript (hereinafter, “Tr.”) 10.] That claim was denied first on June 15, 2016, and denied again upon reconsideration on September 16, 2016. Id. At a hearing on September 6, 2017, Mr. Finley appeared and testified. Id. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Joyce Francis denied this request on December 20, 2017. Id. at 7. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Finley's request for review, making the December 20 ALJ decision final. Id. at 1; 20 C.F.R. § 422.210(a).

         To evaluate a claim of disability for Title II disability insurance benefit claims, an ALJ conducts a five-step analysis. Compare 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (disability insurance benefit claim) with 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 (claims for supplemental security income).[1] 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.” C.F.R. § 404.1530(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 assess an individual's ability to perform certain physical and metal 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.; Jordan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 548 F.3d 417, 423 (6th Cir. 2008).

         At step one, the ALJ found Mr. Finley had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date, December 15, 2012. Tr. at 13. At step two, the ALJ found Mr. Finley to suffer from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc and facet joint disease of the lumbar and cervical spine, peripheral neuropathy, and obesity. Id. At step three, the ALJ determined his combination of impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in C.F.R. Part 404 or Part 416. Id. at 15. Before moving on to step four, the ALJ considered the record and determined that Mr. Finley possessed the following residual functioning capacity (RFC):

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that [Mr. Finley] has the residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). The claimant can frequently climb ramps and stairs; can frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; can occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can occasionally be exposed to extreme cold and vibration; and can occasionally be exposed to unprotected heights or dangerous moving machinery.

Id. at 16. After explaining the RFC, the ALJ found at step four that Mr. Finley was capable of performing past relevant work as a radio station operator, as well as other jobs existing in the national economy. Id. at 19-21. Accordingly, the ALJ determined at step five that Mr. Finley was not disabled since December 15, 2012. Id. at 21. Mr. Finley filed this action for review on October 27, 2018. [R. 1.]


         The Court's review is generally limited to whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Wright v. Massanari, 321 F.3d 611, 614 (6th Cir. 2003); Shelman v. Heckler, 821 F.2d 316, 319-20 (6th Cir. 1987). “Substantial evidence” is “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) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). The substantial evidence standard “presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which [administrative] decision makers can go either way, without interference by the courts.” Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (quoting Baker v. Heckler, 730 F.2d 1147, 1150 (8th Cir. 1984)).

         To determine whether substantial evidence exists, courts must examine the record as a whole. Cutlip, 25 F.3d at 286 (citing Kirk v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 535 (6th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 957 (1983)). However, a reviewing court may not conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or make credibility determinations. Ulman v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir. 2012); see also Bradley v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 862 F.2d 1224, 1228 (6th Cir. 1988). Rather, if the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it must be affirmed even if the reviewing court would decide the matter differently, and even if substantial evidence also ...

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