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Jones v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

December 23, 2014



JOHN S. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.

This is a civil action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c), to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Social Security Administration ("SSA" or "the Administration") denying plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, as provided under the Social Security Act. The case is currently pending on plaintiff's motion for judgment on the administrative record (Docket Entry No. 12), to which defendant has responded (Docket Entry No. 13). Plaintiff has further filed a reply brief (Docket Entry No. 16), to which defendant has filed a sur-reply (Docket Entry No. 19). Upon consideration of these papers and the transcript of the administrative record (Docket Entry No. 10), [1] and for the reasons given below, the undersigned recommends that plaintiff's motion for judgment be DENIED and that the decision of the SSA be AFFIRMED.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff filed her claims to benefits on November 29, 2007, alleging that she became disabled on July 5, 2006, as a result of her degenerative disc disease, depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. (Tr. 143) Her claims were denied at the initial and reconsideration stages of state agency review, whereupon plaintiff filed a request for de novo hearing and decision by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). An administrative hearing was held on May 24, 2010, at which plaintiff appeared without counsel. (Tr. 32-64) Plaintiff testified, as did an impartial vocational expert. At the conclusion of the hearing, the ALJ closed the record and took the matter under advisement, until June 21, 2010, when he issued a written decision in which plaintiff was found to be not disabled. (Tr. 15-27) That decision contains the following enumerated findings:

1. The claimant met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2010.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 5, 2006, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq. ).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: type II diabetes; disc herniation at L4-5 with lower back pain; depression; anxiety; and post traumatic stress disorder (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 one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 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 sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) that is limited to occasionally and frequently lifting and/or carrying ten pounds; sitting in 25 minute intervals; standing and/or walking in one hour intervals; a sit/stand at will option every 25 minutes; simple one and two step repetitive tasks; frequent interaction with the public and co-workers; and non-confrontational interaction with supervisors.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on February 13, 1971 and was 35 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has at least a high school 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, from July 5, 2006, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).

(Tr. 17-18, 25-26)

On June 21, 2012, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-6), thereby rendering that decision the final decision of the Administration. This civil action was thereafter timely filed, and the court has jurisdiction. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c). If the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, based on the record as a whole, then those findings are conclusive. Id.

II. Review of the Record

The following record review is taken from pages 6-10 of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 20-24)

The claimant underwent an anterior cervical diskectomy and fusion at C6-7 in September 1994 due to a herniated nucleus pulposus. Postoperatively, the claimant reported 50-60% relief of her radicular pain and numbness. In October 1994, she reported some numbness in the right index finger, but the pain was gone. Radiology reports indicated good placement of the graft with bony consolidation at both endplates. It was noted that she was having some trouble coping with the medical problems she was experiencing. During this time, she was medically restricted from working. Exhibit lF.

In January 1995, her physician stated that she had reached maximum medical improvement and fell into the cervicothoracic category III with 15% of whole person impairment. He advised a permanent restriction of lifting greater than 30 pounds and permanent restrictions which would preclude repetitive lifting and repetitive motion of the arms or neck at or above the ...

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