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Kirkland v. Astrue

January 17, 2008

ANTHONY L. KIRKLAND, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leon Jordan United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This is an action for judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of defendant Commissioner's final decision denying plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. For the reasons set forth herein, defendant's motion for summary judgment [doc. 11] will be denied. Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment [doc. 9], which only seeks remand under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), will be granted.*fn1

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff applied for benefits in August 2004, claiming to be disabled by back problems. [Tr. 55, 66]. He alleged a disability onset date of November 24, 2003. The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff then requested a hearing, which took place before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") in June 2006.

Later that month, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's claim. The ALJ determined, at step two of the sequential evaluation process, that plaintiff has degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. The ALJ deemed that condition "severe" but not equal to any impairment listed by the Commissioner. [Tr. 16-17]. The ALJ rejected an assessment submitted by one of plaintiff's treating physicians, mistakenly attributing that opinion to a one-time examining source with a similar name. [Tr. 20]. Finding plaintiff unable to return to his past relevant work, the ALJ relied on vocational expert testimony in concluding that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform a significant number of light jobs. [Tr. 21]. Accordingly, plaintiff was deemed ineligible for benefits.

Plaintiff then sought, and was denied, review by the Commissioner's Appeals Council. [Tr. 5]. The ALJ's ruling became the Commissioner's final decision. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Through his timely complaint, plaintiff has properly brought his case before this court for review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981.

II.

Applicable Legal Standards A claimant is entitled to disability insurance payments under the Social Security Act if he (1) is insured for disability insurance benefits, (2) has not attained retirement age, (3) has filed an application for disability insurance benefits, and (4) is under a disability. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1). "Disability" is the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Disability is evaluated pursuant to a five-step analysis summarized by the Sixth Circuit as follows:

1. If claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled.

2. If claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity, his impairment must be severe before he can be found to be disabled.

3. If 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, claimant is presumed disabled without further inquiry.

4. If claimant's impairment does not prevent him from doing his past relevant work, he is not disabled.

5. Even if 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 disabled.

Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 529 (6th Cir. 1997) (citing 20 C.F.R. ยง 404.1520). Claimants bear the burden of proof at the first four steps. See Walters, 127 F.3d at 529. The ...


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