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Cunningham v. Colvin

United States District Court, Western District of Tennessee, Western Division

March 23, 2015

SHIRLEY A. CUNNINGHAM, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER REVERSING COMMISSIONER’S DECISION AND REMANDING PURSUANT TO SENTENCE FOUR OF 42 U.S.C. § 405(G)

JAMES D. TODD, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

This action was filed by the Plaintiff, Shirley A. Cunningham, to obtain judicial review of the defendant Commissioner’s final decision denying her applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., and for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. Plaintiff’s applications for benefits were denied initially and upon reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. At the Plaintiff’s request, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on June 15, 2010. (R. 27-47.) On July 2, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 14-21.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review on September 12, 2011. (R. 1-5). Thus, the ALJ’s decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.

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 or she was a party. The reviewing court may “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. Judicial review is limited to determining whether or not there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the Commissioner’s decision, and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); see also Lindsley v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 560 F.3d 601, 604–08 (6th Cir. 2009); Kyle v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 609 F.3d 847, 854 (6th Cir. 2010).

Substantial evidence is evidence that a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Perales, 402 U.S. at 401; Lindsley, 560 F.3d at 604-05; Kyle, 609 F.3d at 854. The Commissioner, not the reviewing court, is charged with the duty to weigh the evidence, to make credibility determinations, and to resolve material conflicts in the testimony. See Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007). In addition, if the decision is supported by substantial evidence, it should not be reversed 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).

Plaintiff was born on April 7, 1968, and received a high school diploma. (R. 129, 139.) She has past relevant work experience as a child care attendant, factory worker, and nurse’s aid. (R. 135.) Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled on August 11, 2006, due to bipolar disorder. (R. 134.)

In his decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the non-disability insured status requirements through September 30, 2009, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged disability onset date. (R. 16.) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff’s bipolar disorder was a severe impairment and that her impairments did not, either singly or in combination, meet or medically equal a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, Appendix 1. (R. 16.) He determined that Plaintiff’s statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not fully credible. (R. 19-20.) The ALJ further found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels. However, she could perform only simple and low-level tasks; could maintain concentration and focus to perform simple and low-level tasks as well as simple tasks; could not do jobs requiring intense concentration, attention, and focus; could not do jobs involving deadlines or having production quotas; could work with the general public and relate appropriately with coworkers and supervisors; and could adapt to change in the workplace. (R. 18-20.) Relying on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ also determined that, given her residual functional capacity, Plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work as a child care attendant and nurse’s aid. (R. 20.) Accordingly, Plaintiff was not under a disability at any time through the date of the decision. (R. 20-21.)

The Social Security Act defines disability as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1). The initial burden of going forward is on the claimant to show that she is disabled from engaging in her former employment; the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate the existence of available employment compatible with the claimant’s disability and background. Id.; see Felisky v. Bowen, 35 F.3d 1027, 1035 (6th Cir. 1994). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of establishing an entitlement to benefits. Cotton v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 692, 695 (6th Cir. 1993).

In determining disability, the Commissioner conducts a five-step sequential analysis, as set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 and § 416.920:

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 found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart. P, Appendix 1.
4. An individual who can perform work that she has done in the past will not be found to be disabled.
5. If an individual cannot perform her past relevant work, other factors including age, education, past work experience, and residual functional capacity will be considered to determine if other work can be performed.

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). Further analysis is unnecessary if it is determined that an individual is not disabled at any point in this sequential evaluation process. Id.; see also Howard v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 276 F.3d 235, 238 (6th Cir. 2002). Here, the analysis proceeded to ...


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