Anderson v. SSA
OPINION & ORDER: 1. Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [DE # 6 ] is DENIED. 2. The Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment [DE # 7 ] is GRANTED. 3. Judgment in accordance with this opinion will be entered contemporaneouslyherewith. Signed by Judge Karl S. Forester on 8/1/11.(SYD)cc: COR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
SOUTHERN DIVISION at LONDON
CIVIL ACTION NO. 10-238-KSF
RAVEN KEITH ANDERSON
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment to reverse
the decision of the Commissioner denying benefits to Plaintiff and Defendant’s Motion for
Summary Judgment in support of the Commissioner’s Decision. This Court, having reviewed
the record, will affirm the Commissioner’s decision, as it is supported by substantial evidence
and was made pursuant to proper legal standards.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff filed an initial application for disability insurance and Supplemental Security Income
benefits on April 15, 2008, claiming disability since January 29,2008 [TR 100]. This claim was
denied initially and upon reconsideration by the agency, then by Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
Letchworth, and then by the Appeals Council. Having exhausted his administrative remedies,
Plaintiff has filed a timely action in this Court. This case is now ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §
Plaintiff was 38 years old at the time that he filed his claim and was 40 years old at the time
of ALJ Letchworth’s decision [TR 5, 16]. Plaintiff has at least a high school education [TR 107].
Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a carpet mill worker, coal mine electrician, and
painter [TR 126]. Plaintiff claims disability due to back injury, hiatal hernia, irritable bowel
syndrome, and headaches [TR 125].
ALJ Letchworth found that Plaintiff had severe degenerative disc and joint disease,
borderline intellectual functioning, pain, and depressive disorder, but that he did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to one listed in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 [TR 10-11]. ALJ Letchworth further found that Plaintiff’s subjective
complaints of pain were not fully credible [TR 14-16].
The ALJ determined that despite Plaintiff’s limitations, he retained the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to perform light work with the following exceptions: no more than occasional
climbing stairs/ramps, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling, or any climbing
ladder/ropes/scaffolding; no exposure to vibration, unprotected heights and hazards, or
temperature extremes; no more than frequent operation of foot controls; no greater than simple
tasks and instructions in an object-focused work setting; no more than casual contact with other
persons, no more than occasional changes in the work setting and no highly stressful work
including production rate and quota work [TR 13]. Based upon the testimony of vocation expert
Dr. James Miller, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform a variety of jobs that exist in significant
numbers within the national economy that require a light level of work activity [TR 17]. Dr. Miller
mentioned at the hearing, and ALJ Letchworth in his opinion, jobs as a cleaner, hand packer,
production worker, and small part inspector, as those which Plaintiff would be capable of
performing given his RFC and limitations [TR 17, 47-48]. These findings led the ALJ to find Plaintiff
not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act [TR 18].
In this appeal, Plaintiff challenges ALJ Letchworth’s determination that Plaintiff is not
disabled as not supported by substantial evidence [DE# 6-1, p.2]. He further challenges that the
Commissioner failed to prove that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work. Id.
Standard of Review
“Disability” is defined as “the inability to engage in ‘substantial gainful activity,’ because of
a medically determinable physical or mental impairment of at least one year’s expected duration.”
Cruse v. Commissioner of Social Security, 502 F.3d 532, 539 (6th Cir. Sept. 24, 2007); 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A). In determining whether a claimant has a compensable disability under the Social
Security Act, the Commissioner must follow a five-step “sequential evaluation process.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)-(e); Walters v. Commissioner of Social Security, 127 F.3d 525, 529 (6th Cir. 1997).
Those five steps were summarized in Walters as follows:
If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled.
If the claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity, his impairment must be
severe before he can be found disabled.
If the claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity and is suffering from a severe
impairment that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least
twelve months, and his impairment meets or equals a listed impairment, the
claimant is presumed disabled without further inquiry.
If the claimant’s impairment does not prevent him from doing past relevant work, he
is not disabled.
Even if the claimant’s impairment does prevent him from doing his past relevant
work, if other work exists in the national economy that accommodates his residual
functional capacity and vocational factors (age, education, skills, etc.), he is not
Id. “[D]uring the first four steps, the claimant has the burden of proof; this burden shifts to the
Commissioner only at Step Five.” Id.
Review of the Commissioner’s decision is limited in scope to determining whether the
findings of fact made are supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal
standards were followed. Cutlip v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th
“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.” Id. Courts are not to conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts in the
evidence, or make credibility determinations. Id. “Even if the evidence could also support another
conclusion, the decision of the Administrative Law Judge must stand if the evidence could
reasonably support the conclusion reached.” Her v. Commissioner of Social Security, 203 F.3d
388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999).
The Commissioner’s Decision that Plaintiff Retains the Residual Functional
Capacity to Perform a Reduced Range of Light Work is Supported by
The Plaintiff has the ultimate burden of establishing that he is entitled to benefits by proving
that he has a disability as defined in 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Born v. Secretary of Health and
Human Services, 923 F.2d 1168, 1173 (6th Cir. 1990).
It should be noted that the Commissioner does not have the duty to prove that Plaintiff has
a given residual functional capacity, but rather it is the duty of the Plaintiff to prove the extent of his
impairments. The Sixth Circuit explained in Her: “Although the Commissioner has the burden at
step five of producing vocational evidence that jobs which claimant can perform exist in significant
numbers, it remains the claimant’s burden to prove the extent of his functional limitations.” Her,
203 F.3d 388 at 391. The court further explained, “To require the Commissioner to prove a
claimant’s RFC at step five is essential to partially shift the burden of proof required of a claimant
at step four to the Commissioner.” Id. at 392. Therefore, Plaintiff cannot succeed in claiming that
the Commissioner failed to prove that he has the residual functional capacity to perform light work.
This leaves the overarching question of whether the Commissioner’s decision that Plaintiff can still
perform a reduced range of light work is supported by substantial evidence.
In this case, ALJ Letchworth found in favor of the Plaintiff in the first four steps of the fivestep evaluation process. He found that the Plaintiff was not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since the date that he alleges he became disabled, that his impairments were severe but did not
equal one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, and that he was
unable to perform any past relevant work [TR 10-16]. He concluded that Plaintiff could perform a
reduced range of light work, at which point the Commissioner had the burden of proving that there
were a significant number of jobs that he could perform given his RFC. The ALJ concluded, based
on the vocational expert’s testimony, that a sufficient number of jobs Plaintiff could perform did
indeed exist and that he was therefore not disabled [TR 17]. Plaintiff challenges that the ALJ’s
RFC determination was not supported by substantial evidence and is, therefore, invalid.
The ALJ did acknowledge that Plaintiff has a number of severe impairments, including
degenerative disc and joint disease of the lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine; borderline
intellectual functioning; pain disorder; and major depressive disorder [TR 10]. However, a finding
of disability does not depend on the name of a condition, but rather on the functional limitations
caused by that condition which prevent a claimant from engaging in any work available in the
national or regional economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 (d)-(f), 416.920(d)-(f).
Plaintiff notes that consultative examiners Dr. Hoskins and Ms. Moore both reported
physical and mental functional limitations that would prevent him from being able to work if
accepted as true. However, the conclusions of consultative examiners do not enjoy the deferential
status and weight accorded to treating source opinions. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(d), 416.927(d).
Smith v. Commissioner of Social Security, 482 F.3d 873 (6th Cir. 2007).
ALJ Letchworth explained why he did not accept the functional limitations reported by Dr.
Hoskins and Ms. Moore. The ALJ noted that Dr. Hoskins’ October 2008 opinion [TR 454-64] was
based primarily on Plaintiff’s subjective statements [TR 15]. A physician opinion that is based on
Plaintiff’s subjective complaints rather than objective testing or examination may be properly
discounted by an ALJ. 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, Part A, 1.00D. Furthermore,
Dr. Hoskins’ October 2008 opinion was very different from his conclusions in a September 2008
medical report. This earlier report was consistent with the ALJ’s RFC determination [TR 516-25],
and indicated that Plaintiff could lift up to 35 pounds but restricted him from continuous sitting for
more than two hours, heavy pushing, pulling, or carrying, and prolonged or repetitive overhead
work [TR 520]. The ALJ properly resolved the conflict between Dr. Hoskins’ September 2008 and
October 2008 reports by not giving any weight to the unsupported determinations of the October
2008 report. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527, 416.927.
Ms. Moore reported mental functional limitations which would prevent Plaintiff from
performing any work [TR 436-45].
The ALJ declined to give her conclusions any weight,
determining that they were not supported by the rest of the evidence and Plaintiff’s self-reported
activities of daily living were greater than those anticipated by Ms. Moore’s restrictions [TR 9-11].
The Commissioner may consider a claimant’s level of daily activity when making disability
determinations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529, 416.929. Warner v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 375
F.3d 387, 392 (6th Cir. 2004) Plaintiff took care of his four children, who ranged in age from five
to fifteen, without the assistance of his ex-wife. He drove two hours to the hearing, prepared one
to two meals per day and shopped for groceries on a weekly basis [TR 11]. He also interacted with
his mother daily and took his children to the doctor as needed [TR 22-26, 359-60]. Ms. Moore’s
report also conflicts with the report of Dr. Bennett, who reported less restrictive functional limitations
in Plaintiff [TR 363].
The ALJ noted that Plaintiff’s mental and physical treatment regimens were conservative
Conservative treatment undermines a claim for disability.
20 C.F.R. §§
Where, as here, an ALJ’s decision regarding disability is supported by substantial evidence
in the record as a whole, it must be affirmed. See Cornette v. Secretary of Health and Human
Services, 869 F.2d 260, 263 (6th Cir. 1988).
The Court, being otherwise fully and sufficiently advised, HEREBY ORDERS:
Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment [DE #6] is DENIED.
The Commissioner’s Motion for Summary Judgment [DE #7] is GRANTED.
Judgment in accordance with this opinion will be entered contemporaneously
This August 1, 2011.
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