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Bentulan v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville

February 13, 2017

THOMAS STEVEN BENTULAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         This case is before the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the consent of the parties [Doc. 16]. Now before the Court is the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 16 & 17] and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 19 & 20]. Thomas Steven Bentulan (“Bentulan”) seeks judicial review of the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”), the final decision of the Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”).

         Bentulan filed for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits on July 24, 2012 (Tr. 60, 159-160). The application was denied on September 25, 2012 (Tr. 90-92) and again on reconsideration on November 13, 2012 (Tr. 95-96). Following two hearings, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) entered an unfavorable decision on August 19, 2014 (Tr. 15-30). The decision became final when the Appeal Council denied review on July 1, 2015 (Tr. 1-4).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Bentulan was 57 years of age when the ALJ issued the Decision in this case (Tr. 397). His past relevant work experience is as a juvenile corrections counselor, a job he held from April, 1993 until February, 2004, when he was terminated (Tr. 178). Bentulan does not allege that he stopped the corrections counselor job due to disability. Bentulan testified that he was terminated from the corrections counselor job even though he was doing “a great job”:

Q. (by ALJ): what was the reason for this wrongful termination?
A. They call it insubordination, but I actually was doing a great job. My scores. . . I've gotten fives, which were superior for state employees, so it wasn't my performance, but a lot of the things that I was told to do was, I thought, immoral and unethical and then when I told them to put it in writing, of course, so it wouldn't go on me if something went wrong, they put me on a - the list of people they don't particularly like, so I feel like I'm being punished for actually doing a good job (Tr. 418).

         Bentulan has no past relevant work after his termination as a corrections counselor.

         The Plaintiff alleges disability based on a thyroid disorder and claims of severe fatigue, dizziness, headaches and vision problems. The Plaintiff originally alleged an onset of disability date of February 1, 2004 (Tr. 159). The Plaintiff amended this date to January 1, 2007 (Tr. 411). The ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was capable of doing his past work as a corrections counselor, and therefore, was not disabled.[2]

         The Court has considered the medical evidence in the record, the testimony at the hearings, and all other evidence in the record. The medical history of the Plaintiff and the content of the ALJ's Decision are not in dispute, and need not be repeated here.

         II. 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 his findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record, his decision is conclusive and must be affirmed. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004). 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.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing Kirk v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 535 (6th Cir. 1981)) (internal citations omitted).

         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.” Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984) (citing Myers v. Richardson, 471 F.2d 1265 (6th Cir. 1972)).

         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).

         On review, the plaintiff “bears the burden of proving his entitlement to benefits.” Boyes v. Sec'y. of Health & Human Servs., 46 F.3d 510, 512 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing H ...


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