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McComb v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

November 16, 2016

NANCY L. McCOMB, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

         VARLAN/GUYTON

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

         This matter was referred to the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the Rules of this Court for a report and recommendation regarding the disposition by the District Court of the plaintiff's Motion For Summary Judgment [Doc. 14], and the defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment [Doc. 16]. Plaintiff Nancy L. McComb (“McComb”) seeks judicial review of the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), the final decision of the defendant Commissioner.

         BACKGROUND

         McComb was 54 years of age when the ALJ issued the Decision in this case in March, 2010. She is a high school graduate, with over nine years of work experience as a computer programmer and a CAD Draftsman for Bechtel National (Tr. 31-32; 237-238). At a November, 2009 hearing before the ALJ, McComb, citing impairments, testified that she has not worked since November, 1998 (Tr. 37).

         The Court has considered the medical evidence in the record, the testimony at the hearings, and all other evidence in the record. The parties have filed Memoranda [Docs. 15, 17]. The medical history of the Plaintiff and the content of the ALJ's Decision are not in dispute, and need not be repeated here.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When reviewing the Commissioner's determination of whether an individual is disabled pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court is limited to determining “whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether the findings of the ALJ are supported by substantial evidence.” Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 405 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997)). If the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record, the decision is conclusive and must be affirmed. Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007) (quotation omitted); see also Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).

         It is immaterial whether the record may also possess substantial evidence to support a different conclusion from that reached by the ALJ, or whether the reviewing judge may have decided the case differently. Crisp v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 790 F.2d 450, 453 n.4 (6th Cir. 1986). The substantial evidence standard is intended to create a “zone of choice' within which the Commissioner can act, without the fear of court interference.” Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 773 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986)). Therefore, the Court will not “try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of credibility.” Walters, 127 F.3d at 528.

         In addition to reviewing the ALJ's findings to determine whether they were supported by substantial evidence, the Court also reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether it was reached through application of the correct legal standards and in accordance with the procedure mandated by the regulations and rulings promulgated by the Commissioner. See Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004). The Court may, however, decline to reverse and remand the Commissioner's determination if it finds that the ALJ's procedural errors were harmless. An ALJ's violation of the Social Security Administration's procedural rules is harmless and will not result in reversible error “absent a showing that the claimant has been prejudiced on the merits or deprived of substantial rights because of the [ALJ]'s procedural lapses.” Wilson, 378 F.3d at 546-47. Thus, an ALJ's procedural error is harmless if the ultimate decision was supported by substantial evidence and the error did not deprive the claimant of an important benefit or safeguard. See id. at 547.

         On review, Plaintiff bears the burden of proving entitlement to benefits. Boyes v. Sec'y. of Health & Human Servs., 46 F.3d 510, 512 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing Halsey v. Richardson, 441 F.2d 1230 (6th Cir. 1971)).

         POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

         McComb is seeking disability benefits for the time period of November, 1998 through June 30, 2004 (Tr. 28). McComb testified, before the ALJ, that she was disabled due to “fatigue”, “depression”, and “brain fog” (Tr. 33). She also related episodes of panic attacks and trouble sleeping (Tr. 37-38). In support of her claim, McComb primarily relies on the assessments of her physician, Dr. Pamela Bridgeman, and her therapist, Eileen Kogen.

         The Commissioner's position is that the ALJ properly reviewed and considered the medical evidence in the record, and the record as a whole. The Commissioner argues that all other complaints about the ALJ's Decision are not ...


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