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Turner v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee

January 20, 2015

JOHN TURNER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

ORDER AFFIRMING DECISION OF COMMISSIONER

JAMES D. TODD, District Judge.

Plaintiff has filed this action to obtain judicial review of Defendant Commissioner's final decision denying his application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act") and supplemental security income ("SSI"). Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), which was held on December 13, 2011.

On February 3, 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 filed this action, requesting reversal of the decision of the Commissioner. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a claimant may obtain judicial review of any final decision made by the Commissioner after a hearing to which he was a party. "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, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Lindsley v. Commissioner, 560 F.3d 601, 604-08 (6th Cir. 2009); Kyle v. Commissioner, 609 F.3d 847, 854 (6th Cir. 2010).

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 Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007). When substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's determination, it is conclusive, even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion. See Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 353 (6th Cir. 2001); Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986). A reviewing court must defer to findings of fact by an appeals council when those findings conflict with the factual findings of the ALJ. Id. at 545.

Plaintiff was born on February 13, 1955, and was fifty-five years old at the time of the filing of his application for benefits on August 16, 2010. R. 39-40. He has a high school education. Plaintiff claims disability from gout, hypertension, high cholesterol, arthritis, diabetes mellitus, diabetic neuropathy, and pain beginning December 30, 2004. R. 16. His insured status under Title II expired on December 31, 2004.

The ALJ enumerated the following findings: (1) Plaintiff met the disability insured status requirements through December 31, 2004; (2) Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity through December 30, 2004, the alleged onset of disability, but did in engage in substantial gainful activity prior to the issuance of this decision; however, there was a continuous twelve month period during which Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity; (3) Plaintiff has medically determinable impairments of gout, hypertension, and diabetes mellitus; but they are not severe because they did not significantly limit his ability to perform basic work-related activities for at least twelve consecutive months; (4) 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 ...

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