United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Frankfort
DIANA L. GRAY PLAINTIFF
ANDREW SAUL,  Commissioner of the Social Security Administration DEFENDANT
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. BUNNING, 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
Diana L. Gray protectively filed for a period of disability
and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II
alleging disability beginning on June 2, 2006. (Tr. 15). That
application was denied on January 21, 2009,  and the Appeals
Council denied review on October 23, 2009. Id. The
Plaintiff then filed a second application under Title II
alleging disability beginning on August 20, 2011.
Id. That application was denied on December 22,
2014. Id. The Appeals Council, however, granted
review of the 2014 decision and remanded the application for
further proceedings. Id. In accordance with the
Appeal Council’s directions, the record was
supplemented and an administrative hearing was conducted on
March 22, 2017 before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Roger L.
Reynolds. (Tr. 15, 27). On July 6, 2017, ALJ Reynolds ruled
that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. (Tr.
15–27). This decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner on September 14, 2018 when the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff’s request for review. (Tr. 1–3).
filed the instant action on November 15, 2018 alleging that
the Commissioner’s decision was contrary to law. (Doc.
# 1). The matter has culminated in cross-motions for summary
judgment, which are now ripe for adjudication. (Docs. # 13
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, the
Commissioner’s findings must be affirmed, even if 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).
claimant files an application for benefits under the same
title of the Social Security Act as a previously-determined
application, the principal of res judicata places limits on
the evidence that an ALJ evaluating the second application
can review. The Sixth Circuit has established that “the
principles of res judicata can be applied against the [SSA]
Commissioner.” Drummond v. Comm’r of Soc.
Sec., 126 F.3d 837, 842 (6th Cir. 1997). “When the
Commissioner has made a final decision concerning a
claimant’s entitlement to benefits, the Commissioner is
bound by this determination absent changed
circumstances.” Id. A prior ALJ’s legal
and factual findings must not be altered unless new and
material evidence is presented showing that the
plaintiff’s condition has significantly changed.
Id.; see also Blankenship v. Comm’r of
Soc. Sec., 624 F. App’x 419, 425 (6th Cir. 2015).
before considering whether Gray was disabled, the ALJ
determined that Gray had presented “new and material
evidence relating to the development of a mental impairment
and several nonsevere impairments.” (Tr. 15). As a
result, under Drummond, the findings from the 2009
ALJ decision were not binding. (Tr. 16).
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 here. 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 August 20, 2011-the
alleged onset date of the disability. (Tr. 18). At Step Two,
the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff has the following
severe impairments: chronic low back pain secondary to
degenerative disc disease of the lumbosacral spine with mild
facet arthropathy, chronic hip pain secondary to early
trochanteric bursitis, and a major depressive disorder. (Tr.
18). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s other
impairments-migraine headaches, now healed fractures of the
left calcaneous, and obesity-caused no more than minimal
limitations on her ability to work. (Tr. 18–19). 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.
Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff possesses the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to perform a limited range of work
at the light exertional level as defined in 20 C.F.R. §