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Williams v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

March 23, 2017

ROGER LEE WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THOMAS A. VARLAN, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is before the Court on plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 20, 21] and defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 24, 25]. Roger Lee Williams (“plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”), the final decision of defendant Nancy Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”). For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny plaintiff's motion, and grant the Commissioner's motion.

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”), claiming a period of disability which began November 8, 2011 [Tr. 156-57, 158-64]. After his application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff requested a hearing before a judge [Tr. 142]. On March 4, 2014, a hearing was held before the ALJ to review the denial of plaintiff's claim [Tr. 27- 64]. On May 29, 2014, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled [Tr. 7-26]. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review [Tr. 1-4]. Thus, the decision of the ALJ is the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted his administrative remedies, plaintiff filed a complaint with this Court on October 27, 2015, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision under § 405(g) of the Social Security Act [Doc. 2]. The parties have filed competing dispositive motions, and this matter is now ripe for adjudication.

         II. The ALJ's Findings

         The ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2016.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 8, 2011, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: status post right rotator cuff surgery times two, mild osteoarthritis of the acromioclavicular joint, cervical spine degenerative disc disease, small cystic lesion on the left foot, obesity, borderline intellectual functioning, and mood disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to lift and carry at the light exertional level as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), stand/walk for 15 minutes at one time without interruption, unlimited sitting, and no overhead reaching with the right upper extremity. He is right hand dominant. He is able to understand, remember, and carry out simple routine repetitive instructions and tasks. He is able to sustain adequate attention and concentration for the performance of the previously described tasks. He can perform occasional social interactions and is able to adapt to infrequent/gradual changes. He can do no work requiring literacy or math skills.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on July 14, 1977 and was 34 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from November 8, 2011, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)) [Tr. 12-21].

         III. 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. Sec'y 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 Halsey v. Richardson, 441 F.2d 1230 (6th Cir. 1971)).

         IV. Analysis

         This case involves an application for DIB and SSI benefits. An individual qualifies for DIB if he or she: (1) is insured for DIB; (2) has not reached the age of retirement; (3) has filed an application for DIB; and (4) is disabled. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1). To qualify for SSI benefits, an individual must file an application and be an “eligible individual” as defined in the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a); 20 C.F.R. § 416.202. An individual is ...


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