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Kittrell v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

March 29, 2017

JENNIFER KITTRELL
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security

          MEMORANDUM

          BARBARA D. HOLMES United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying Plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), as provided under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). The case is currently pending on Plaintiff's second motion for judgment on the administrative record (Docket Entry No. 28), to which Defendant has responded (Docket Entry No. 32).[2] Plaintiff has also filed a subsequent reply to Defendant's response (Docket Entry No. 33). This action is before the undersigned for all further proceedings pursuant to the consent of the parties and referral of the District Judge in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) (Docket Entry No. 23).

         Upon review of the administrative record as a whole and consideration of the parties' filings, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED. For the reasons stated herein, the Court REVERSES the decision of the Commissioner and REMANDS this case for further administrative proceedings.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on April 21, 2012. See Transcript of the Administrative Record (Docket Entry No. 10) at 104-05.[3] She alleged a disability onset date of March 1, 2003. AR 104-05. Plaintiff asserted that she was unable to work because of major depressive disorder, a Cluster B personality disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”), reading disorder, arthritis in her hip, and problems in her back, neck, and hip. AR 69, 86.

         Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. AR 104-05, 140-41. Pursuant to her request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before ALJ Ronald Miller on December 13, 2012. AR 33. On January 24, 2013, the ALJ denied the claim. AR 8-10. On April 8, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (AR 1-3), thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. This civil action was thereafter timely filed, and the Court has jurisdiction. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. THE ALJ FINDINGS

         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on January 24, 2013. AR 8-10. Based upon the record, the ALJ made the following enumerated findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2008.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 1, 2003, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: mild degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and cervical spine; arthritis in the hips; post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); mood disorder; and personality 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 perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except [she] can lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally with no sitting restrictions. Claimant can stand and walk for 4 hours in an 8-hour workday. Claimant should have direct supervision that is non-confrontational. Claimant can occasionally interact with the general public and co-workers, but would be better working with things rather than people. Claimant can set goals independently and adapt to infrequent change.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on September 20, 1974 and was 28 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, 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 an issue in this case because the claimant's past relevant work is unskilled (20 CFR 404.1568 and 416.968).
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 March 1, 2003, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).

AR 13-21.

         III. REVIEW OF THE RECORD

         The parties and the ALJ have thoroughly summarized and discussed the medical and testimonial evidence of the administrative record. Accordingly, the Court will discuss those matters only to the extent necessary to analyze the parties' arguments.

         IV. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         A. Standard of Review

         The determination of disability under the Act is an administrative decision. The only questions before this Court upon judicial review are: (i) whether the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence, and (ii) whether the Commissioner made legal errors in the process of reaching the decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (adopting and defining substantial evidence standard in context of Social Security cases); Kyle v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 609 F.3d 847, 854 (6th Cir. 2010). The Commissioner's decision must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence, “even if there is substantial evidence in the record that would have supported an opposite conclusion.” Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997)); Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 477 (6th Cir. 2003); Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999).

         Substantial evidence is defined as “more than a mere scintilla” and “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S.Ct. 206, 83 L.Ed. 126 (1938)); Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007); LeMaster v. Weinberger, 533 F.2d 337, 339 ...


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