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Byars v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee

June 10, 2015

GEORGIA BYARS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

ORDER AFFIRMING DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER

JAMES D. TODD, District Judge.

Plaintiff filed this action to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. and for Supplement Security Income ("SSI"). Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. After a hearing, on March 19, 2013, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") found that Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Act. The Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's decision. This decision became the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff then filed this action, requesting reversal of the Commissioner's decision. 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 was born on April 15, 1977, and was thirty four years old at the time of the filing of her application for benefits on February 14, 2012. R. 157-166. She has a high school education. Plaintiff alleges that she is disabled due to bilateral hand pain, low back, knee and foot pain, and osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis in her low back. R. 203. Plaintiff alleges that she became disabled on February 9, 2011, the day after a prior ALJ found that she was not disabled. R. 52.[1]

The ALJ enumerated the following findings: (1) Plaintiff met the disability insured status requirements through December 31, 2012; (2) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of disability; (3) Plaintiff has severe impairments of congenital shortening of the right arm humerus and a remote history of left knee chondromalacia patella tendonitis; but she does not have an impairment or combination of impairments which meet or equal in severity the clinical criteria of any impairment listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulations No. 4; (4) Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of medium work; (5) Plaintiff is able to perform her past relevant work as a nurse's assistant; (6) 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 she is disabled from engaging in her 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 fourth step. The ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work.

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's evaluation of the medical evidence and the assessment of her ...


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