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Williams v. Berryhill

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

March 31, 2017

DEANNA GAYE WILLIAMS, 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. 18]. Now before the Court is the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 15 & 16] and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 21 & 22]. Deanna Gaye Williams (“the Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”), the final decision of the Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”).

         On June 21, 2012, the Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”), claiming a period of disability which began June 1, 2012. [Tr. 189-201]. After her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, the Plaintiff requested a hearing. [Tr. 140-144, 148-154]. On July 3, 2014, a hearing was held before the ALJ to review determination of the Plaintiff's claim. [Tr. 46-77]. On September 18, 2014, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not disabled. [Tr. 28-45]. The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review [Tr. 1-5]; thus, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted her administrative remedies, the Plaintiff filed a Complaint with this Court on February 16, 2016, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision under Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act. [Doc. 1]. The parties have filed competing dispositive motions, and this matter is now ripe for adjudication.

         I. ALJ FINDINGS

         The ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insure status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2016.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2012, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis, neuropathy, and mild degenerative disc disease (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 light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). She can occasionally perform all postural activities, except she can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds.
6. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as an administrative assistant, an office manager, and a real estate property manager. This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from June 1, 2012, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(f) and 416.920(f)).

         [Tr. 33-40].

         II. DISABILITY ELIGIBILITY

         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 eligible for SSI benefits on the basis of financial need and either age, blindness, or disability. See 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a).

         “Disability” is the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). A claimant will only be considered disabled if:

his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.

42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B); see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 415.905(a).

         Disability is evaluated pursuant to a five-step analysis summarized as follows:

1. If claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled.
2. If claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity, his impairment must be severe before he can be found to be disabled.
3. If claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity and is suffering from a severe impairment that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and his impairment meets or equals a listed ...

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