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Powell v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

December 17, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



This action was instituted pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying the plaintiff supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.

This matter has been referred to the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for a Report and Recommendation regarding the disposition of:

(1) The plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record (Doc. 15), and
(2) The defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 18)

For the reasons stated herein, I RECOMMEND the Commissioner's decision be REVERSED and REMANDED pursuant to Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

Plaintiff's Age, Education, and Past Relevant Work Experience

Plaintiff was fifty-two years old when the ALJ issued his decision (Tr. 115). Plaintiff completed the ninth grade (Tr. 132), and worked as a waiter, short order cook, material handler, landscape laborer, construction worker, animal caretaker, and automobile wrecker (Tr. 44, 148).

Application for Benefits and Findings

On July 19, 2010, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI")[1] alleging a disability onset date of December 31, 2007 (Tr. 115-19). After Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration (Tr. 54-57, 61-63), the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held a hearing on January 10, 2012, and issued an unfavorable decision on March 12, 2012 (Tr. 11-24, 29-48). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not been under a disability through the date of the decision (Tr. 11-24). Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision, and the Appeals Council denied his request (Tr. 1-6), and the Commissioner's decision is ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

Standard of Review - Findings of ALJ

Disability is defined as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that 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). The burden of proof in a claim for social security benefits is upon the claimant to show disability. Barney v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 743 F.2d 448, 449 (6th Cir. 1984); Allen v. Califano, 613 F.2d 139, 145 (6th Cir. 1980); Hephner v. Mathews, 574 F.2d 359, 361 (6th Cir. 1978). Once the claimant makes a prima facie case that he/she cannot return to his/her former occupation, however, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that there is work in the national economy which claimant can perform considering his/her age, education, and work experience. Richardson v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 735 F.2d 962, 964 (6th Cir. 1984); Noe v. Weinberger, 512 F.2d 588, 595 (6th Cir. 1975). "This Court must affirm the Commissioner's conclusions absent a determination that the Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standards or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record." Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004) (quoting Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997)). If there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's findings, they should be affirmed, even if the Court might have decided facts differently, or if substantial evidence also would have supported other findings. Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 780, 782 (6th Cir. 1996); Ross v. Richardson, 440 F.2d 690, 691 (6th Cir. 1971). The Court may not re-weigh the evidence and substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner merely because substantial evidence exists in the record to support a different conclusion. The substantial evidence standard allows considerable latitude to administrative decision makers because it presupposes there is a zone of choice within which the decision makers can go either way, without interference by the courts. Felisky v. Bowen, 35 F.3d 1027, 1035 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 548 (6th Cir. 1986)); Crisp v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 790 F.2d 450, 453 n.4 (6th Cir. 1986).

As the basis of the administrative decision that plaintiff was not disabled, the ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 19, 2010, the application date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq. ).
2. The claimant has the following "severe" impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); obesity; and hypertension (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
3. 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 Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that since July 1, 2010, the claimant has had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) with the able [sic] to occasional maneuver the spine for bending and twisting with no climbing or crawling or prolonged exposure to respiratory irritants. He can understand, remember and carry out simple job instructions and perform simple and repetitive tasks.
5. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).
6. The claimant was born on _________ __, 1960, and was 50 years old, which is defined as an individual "closely approaching advanced age" on the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.964 (20 CFR 416.963).
7. The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).
8. The claimant has not acquired any work skills transferable to work within the residual functional ...

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