United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee
For Michael Weaver, Plaintiff: Emma Drozdowski Webb, Miller & Lefebvre, Knoxville, TN.
For Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant: Loretta S Harber, LEAD ATTORNEY, U S Department of Justice (Knox USAO), Office of U S Attorney, Knoxville, TN.
H. Bruce Guyton, United States Magistrate Judge. MATTICE.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
H. Bruce Guyton, United States Magistrate Judge.
This case is before the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the Rules of this Court for a report and recommendation regarding disposition by the District Court of Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Doc. 16 & 17] and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 18 & 19]. Plaintiff Michael Eugene Weaver seeks judicial review of the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ"), the final decision of the Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (" the Commissioner").
On September 11, 2009, Plaintiff protectively filed a Title II and Title XVIII application and a supplemental Title XVI and XIX application with an alleged onset date of September 3, 2009. [Tr. 134-40; 153]. The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's application initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr. 69-72; 77-80]. Plaintiff timely filed a request for a hearing, and appeared before Administrative Law Judge, Joan A. Lawrence, on July 12, 2011 and April 26, 2012, in Knoxville, Tennessee. [Tr. 83-84; 43; 28]. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on July 12, 2012. [Tr. 11-27]. Plaintiff filed his appeal of the decision, which the Appeals Council declined to review on October 17, 2013. [Tr. 8-10; 1-5].
Having exhausted his administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed a complaint with this Court on December 10, 2013, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision under Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act. [Doc. 1]. The parties have filed competing dispositive motions, and this matter is now ripe for adjudication.
I. ALJ FINDINGS
The ALJ made the following findings:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2014.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 3, 2009, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq .).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder; depression; anxiety; HIV, asymptomatic (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the claimant could occasionally stoop, crouch, crawl and climb. The claimant could perform work requiring only simple instructions, concentrate and persist for two-hour periods and changes in the work environment should be gradually introduced into the work environment. The claimant should avoid interaction with the general public and coworker/supervisor interaction is infrequent and casual.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on June 22, 1968 and was 41 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is " not disabled, " whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR
82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since September 3, 2009, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).
II. DISABILITY ELIGIBILITY
To qualify for SSI benefits, plaintiff must file an application and be an " eligible individual" as defined in the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a); 20 C.F.R. § 416.202. An individual is eligible for SSI benefits on the basis of financial need and either age, blindness, or disability. See 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a).
" Disability" is the inability " [t]o 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 twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). An individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
Disability is evaluated pursuant to a five-step analysis summarized 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 (" RFC") 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. § 404.1520). Plaintiff bears the burden of proof at the first four steps.
Walters, 127 F.3d at 529. The burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Id. At the fifth step, the Commissioner must prove that there is work available in the national economy that the claimant could perform. Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th Cir. 1999) (citing Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987)).
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
When reviewing the Commissioner's determination of whether an individual is disabled pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court is limited to determining " whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether the findings of the ALJ are supported by substantial evidence." Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 405 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997)). If the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and his findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record, his decision is conclusive and must be affirmed. Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 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." Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d ...