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Thomason v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee

January 20, 2015

JOE THOMASON, Plaintiff,


JAMES D. TODD, District Judge.

Plaintiff filed this action to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq., and supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. The applications were denied initially and upon review. Plaintiff requested a hearing which was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on September 27, 2012. On November 30, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision, finding that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. The Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's decision. This decision became the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff then filed this action. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.

A Social Security claimant may obtain judicial review of any final decision made by the Commissioner after a hearing to which he was a party. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "The court shall have the power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." Id . The court's review is limited to determining whether or not there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision, id.; Jones v. Commissioner, 336 F.3d 469, 478 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Wyatt v. Secretary, 974 F.2d 680, 683 (6th Cir. 1992)), and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Landsaw v. Secretary, 803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner, not the court, is charged with the duty to weigh the evidence, to make credibility determinations and resolve material conflicts in the testimony, and to decide the case accordingly. See Crum v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 642, 644 (6th Cir. 1990). When substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's determination, it is conclusive, even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion. Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986).

Plaintiff filed his applications for disability benefits on September 20, 2011. R. 11, 132-43. He was born on January 2, 1965, and he alleges that he became disabled beginning January 1, 2004. R. 11, 132, 137. He alleges disability due to a ruptured disc. R. 157. He has a ninth grade education.

In the decision, the ALJ enumerated the following findings: (1) Plaintiff met the disability insured status requirements through September 30, 2012; (2) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of disability; (3) Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: lumbar degenerative disc disease with history of laminectomy, peptic ulcer disease, hypertension, obesity, depression, anxiety, and borderline intellectual functioning; however, the evidence does not establish medical findings which meet or equal in severity the clinical criteria of any impairment listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4; (4) Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform light work; he can lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; he can sit, stand, and walk for six hours each in an eight-hour workday; he can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and climb stairs or ramps; he can occasionally crawl and climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; he can perform short, simple directions, make judgments on simple work-related decisions, interact occasionally with the general public, interact appropriately with co-workers and supervisors, and adapt to infrequent workplace changes; (5) Plaintiff is unable to perform his past relevant work; (6) Plaintiff was a younger individual on his alleged onset date; (7) Plaintiff has a limited education; (8) Transferability of job skills is not an option because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that Plaintiff is not disabled whether or not he has transferable job skills; (9) Based on Plaintiff's age, work experience, education, and residual functional capacity, there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy which he can perform; (10) Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Act at any time through the date of this decision.

The Social Security Act defines disability as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of establishing an entitlement to benefits. Born v. Secretary, 923 F.2d 1168, 1173 (6th Cir. 1990). The initial burden of going forward is on the claimant to show that he is disabled from engaging in his former employment; the burden of going forward then shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate the existence of available employment compatible with the claimant's disability and background. Id.

The Commissioner conducts the following, five-step analysis to determine if an individual is disabled within the meaning of the Act:

1. An individual who is engaging in substantial gainful activity will not be found to be disabled regardless of medical findings.
2. An individual who does not have a severe impairment will not be found to be disabled.
3. A finding of disability will be made without consideration of vocational factors, if an individual is not working and is suffering from a severe impairment which meets the duration requirement and which meets or equals a listed impairment in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations.
4. An individual who can perform work that he has done in the past will not be found to be disabled.
5. If an individual cannot perform his or her past work, other factors including age, education, past work experience and residual functional capacity must be considered to determine if other work can be performed.

Willbanks v. Secretary, 847 F.2d 301 (6th Cir. 1988). Further review is not necessary if it is determined that an individual is not disabled at any point in this sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). Here, the sequential analysis proceeded to the fifth step. The ALJ found that Plaintiff can perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy and, therefore, is not disabled.

Plaintiff contends that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's finding that he does not meet the severity requirements of Listing 12.05(C) ...

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