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Kuppich v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

September 14, 2017

Michael F. Kuppich, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Edward C. Olson, Esq., Disability Attorneys of Minnesota, counsel for Plaintiff.

          Gregory G. Brooker, Esq., United States Attorney's Office, counsel for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          BECKY R. THORSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Plaintiff Michael F. Kuppich was disabled starting on January 26, 2010, but was not disabled prior to that date. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for disability insurance benefits during the period from January 13, 2005, to January 26, 2010. This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, in accordance with D. Minn. LR 7.2(c)(1). (Doc. Nos. 15, 17.) For the reasons stated below, the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record. Therefore, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is denied and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff applied for Title II disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) on August 10, 2006, alleging a disability onset date of October 22, 2004. (Tr. 9, 98.)[1] Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on November 20, 2008. (Tr. 20-35.)[2] The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on March 9, 2009. (Tr. 9-17.) On appeal, the district court reversed the Commissioner's denial of benefits and remanded for further proceedings, pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Tr. 542-45.) Pursuant to the remand, the Social Security Administration Appeals Council directed the ALJ to further evaluate Plaintiff's depression and whether his past work as a self-employed rehabilitation clerk constitutes substantial gainful activity. (Tr. 553-54.)

         The ALJ conducted a second hearing on December 19, 2011. (Tr. 504-23.) On February 15, 2012, in a partially favorable decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was disabled since January 27, 2010, but was not disabled prior to that date. (Tr. 559-71.) Plaintiff appealed on March 18, 2012. (Tr. 678.) More than four years later, on May 31, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 497-500.) This denial made the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

         On July 27, 2016, Plaintiff filed this action seeking judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. No. 1.) Defendant filed an answer on November 8, 2016. (Doc. No. 9.) The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 16, Pl.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. (“Pl.'s Mem.”); Doc. No. 18, Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. (“Def.'s Mem.”).) Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not offer sufficient reasons for rejecting the opinion of a consulting psychiatrist, Dr. Alford Karayusuf, M.D., that Plaintiff is limited to unskilled work. (Pl.'s Mem. 10-14.) Defendant argues that the ALJ gave an adequate explanation for discounting Dr. Karayusuf's opinion, and that the ALJ's denial of benefits is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. (Def.'s Mem. 6-16.)

         II. Personal and Work Background

         Born in 1950, Plaintiff is the second youngest of ten siblings (five brothers and five sisters). (Tr. 103, 738.) Plaintiff was married, but he divorced in 1990 and has no children. (Tr. 470.) He has a college degree in physical education. (Tr. 23.) He lives with one of his brothers. (Tr. 29.)

         Since about 1990, Plaintiff has worked as a rehabilitation clerk, helping injured workers find suitable work. (Tr. 17, 27-28.) Plaintiff used to perform this job on a fulltime basis. (Tr. 27-28.) At his first disability hearing, Plaintiff testified that he could only work twenty hours per week. (Tr. 28.) At the second hearing, Plaintiff testified that he was down to working only ten hours a week and he works from home. (Tr. 27, 508.)

         III. The ALJ's Findings and Decision

         On February 15, 2012, following Plaintiff's second disability hearing, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision, finding that Plaintiff was disabled beginning January 27, 2010, but not disabled prior to that date. (Tr. 559-71.) The ALJ followed the five-step evaluation process dictated by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4), which involves the following determinations: (1) whether Plaintiff is involved in “substantial gainful activity”; (2) whether Plaintiff has a severe impairment that significantly limits his mental or physical ability to work; (3) whether Plaintiff's impairments meet or equal a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the regulations; (4) whether Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform his past work; and (5) if Plaintiff cannot perform his past work, whether the government has shown that Plaintiff can perform other work, and that there is a sufficient number of those jobs available in the national economy. (Tr. 560-61.)

         At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date. (Tr. 561.) The ALJ recognized that Plaintiff worked after his alleged onset date, but found that his earnings were below the level required to be considered substantial gainful activity in those years. (Id.)

         The ALJ determined at step two that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus with peripheral neuropathy; degenerative disc disease; right eye infection with decreased vision in the right eye; major ...


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