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Reams v. Saul

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

December 20, 2019

DANIEL RAY REAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove, United States District Judge.

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

         I

         A

         Plaintiff Daniel Ray Reams filed an application for disability insurance benefits on November 30, 2016, alleging disability beginning September 18, 2016. [Transcript (“Tr.”) 11.] This initial application was denied on March 14, 2017. Id. at 70-73. Mr. Reams requested reconsideration and a video hearing. Id. at 11. That hearing was held on November 30, 2017. [See Tr. 134; R. 7-1 at 1.] On January 23, 2018, Administrative Law Judge Tommye C. Mangus returned an unfavorable decision as to Mr. Reams' claim. [Tr. 8.] Mr. Reams then requested review from the Appeals Council, who denied this request. Id. at 1.

         To evaluate a claim of disability for Title II disability insurance benefit claims, an ALJ conducts a five-step analysis. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. 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 an impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits 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, the ALJ must determine whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. C.F.R. § 404.1530(d). If so, he is “disabled.” If not, the analysis proceeds to the next step. Id. However, 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 assesses an individual's ability to perform certain physical and mental 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, the ALJ will consider whether a claimant's impairments (considering his RFC, age, education, and past work) prevent him from doing other work that exists in the national economy. If so, that claimant is “disabled.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).

         Through Step 4 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 5, 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).

         In this case, at Step 1, the ALJ found Mr. Reams had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability onset date, September 18, 2016. [Tr. 14.] At Step 2, the ALJ found that Mr. Reams' severe impairments consisted of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, cervicalgia, and degenerative joint disease of the ankles. Id. At Step 3, the ALJ determined that Mr. Reams did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the degree of severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. [Tr. 15.] Specifically, the ALJ found that Mr. Reams failed to present specific medical evidence sufficient to satisfy the paragraph B or paragraph C criteria with regards to listings 12.04, 12.06, and 12.15. Id. at 15-16. Next, based upon the evidence, the ALJ determined that Mr. Reams had a residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a range of unskilled light work. Id. at 17-18. At Step 4, the ALJ acknowledged that Mr. Reams' impairments prevented him from performing any past relevant work. Id. at 20. At Step 5, however, after hearing testimony from the neutral vocational expert, the ALJ found that Mr. Reams could perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 20-21. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Reams was not disabled since September 18, 2016. Id. at 21. Mr. Reams filed this action for review on October 23, 2018. [R. 1.]

         B

         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). “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 supports the opposite conclusion. See Ulman, 693 F.3d at 714; Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007); Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999).

         II

         Mr. Reams presents two arguments to this Court as grounds for relief from the ALJ's unfavorable decision. Specifically, he argues (1) the ALJ erred at Step 3 in determining that Mr. Reams' PTSD and attendant limitations did not meet the criteria of Listing 12.15 in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, and (2) that the ALJ's finding that Mr. Reams was not disabled was unsupported by substantial evidence and, relatedly, reflected an improper evaluation of Mr. Reams' subjective ...


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