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Smith v. Saul

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

December 20, 2019

MICHAEL SMITH PLAINTIFF
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security[1] DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          H. Brent Brennenstuhl, United States Magistrate Judge.

         BACKGROUND

         Before the Court is the complaint (DN 1) of Michael Smith 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 20) have filed a Fact and Law Summary. For the reasons that follow, the undersigned orders that judgment be 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 July 12, 2019 (DN 12), the parties were notified that oral arguments would not be held unless a written request was filed and granted. No. such request was filed.

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         Smith filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on August 31, 2016 (Tr. 290-96). Smith alleged that he became disabled on August 13, 2015 as a result of broken back-herniated/spinal disc and shoulder surgery on the left rotator cuff (Tr. 314). Administrative Law Judge David Peeples (“ALJ”) conducted a hearing on June 26, 2018 via video conference presiding from Paducah, Kentucky. Smith appeared from Madisonville, KY. Smith was represented by Brian Newlin, an attorney, and Sean P. Sullivan, a non-attorney representative. Also present and testifying was Theresa Wolford, an impartial vocational expert.

         In a decision dated October 24, 2018, the ALJ evaluated this adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 47-56). At the first step, the ALJ found Smith has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 13, 2015, the alleged onset date (Tr. 49). At the second step, the ALJ determined that Smith's spine degeneration, status post discectomy/hemilaminectomy resection and fixation, left rotator teat, status post shoulder arthroscopy with subacromial decompression and rotator cuff repair are “severe” impairments within the meaning of the regulations (Tr. 49). At the third step, the ALJ concluded that Smith does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1 (Tr. 50).

         At the fourth step, the ALJ found Smith has the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of light work (Tr. 50). More specifically, the ALJ found that Smith can not frequently climb ramps and stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can balance frequently, but only occasionally stoop, kneel, and crouch; can never crawl; can frequently reach overhead with the left (non-dominate) upper extremity; and must avoid concentrated exposure to vibrations and hazards (i.e. unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts) (Tr. 50). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ found that Smith is capable of performing past relevant work as a Quality Assurance Monitor (Tr. 55). Because the ALJ found Smith could perform past relevant work, he did not need to proceed to the fifth step.

         Smith timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 335-342). The Appeals Council denied Smith's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-4).

         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. 1-4). 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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