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Morin v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville Division

May 1, 2017

DEBRA A. MORIN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Clifton L. Corker United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the United States Magistrate Judge, with the consent of the parties and an order of reference under 28 U.S.C. § 636 [Doc. 13], for decision and entry of judgment. Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits was administratively denied following a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge [“ALJ”]. Plaintiff has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 14], while the defendant Commissioner has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 18].

         I. Standard of Review

         The sole function of this Court in making this review is to determine whether the findings of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence in the record. McCormick v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 861 F.2d 998, 1001 (6th Cir. 1988). “Substantial evidence” is defined as evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the challenged conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971). It must be enough to justify, if the trial were to a jury, a refusal to direct a verdict when the conclusion sought to be drawn is one of fact for the jury. Consolo v. Federal Maritime Commission, 383 U.S. 607 (1966). The Court may 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). Even if the reviewing court were to resolve the factual issues differently, the Commissioner's decision must stand if supported by substantial evidence. Liestenbee v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 846 F.2d 345, 349 (6th Cir. 1988). Yet, even if supported by substantial evidence, “a decision of the Commissioner will not be upheld where the SSA fails to follow its own regulations and where that error prejudices a claimant on the merits or deprives the claimant of a substantial right.” Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 746 (6th Cir. 2007).

         Plaintiff's earnings records show that she has acquired sufficient quarters of coverage to remain insured through September 30, 2015. Thus, she must establish disability on or before that date in order to be entitled to a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. At all applicable times, Plaintiff was “closely approaching retirement age” with a high school education. She has past relevant work as a bookkeeper, caretaker, and assisted-living manager.

         The applicable administrative regulations require the Commissioner to utilize a five-step sequential evaluation process for disability determinations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). Although a dispositive finding at any step ends the ALJ's review, see Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007), the complete sequential review poses five questions:

1. Is the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity?
2. Does the claimant suffer from one or more severe impairments?
3. Do the claimant's severe impairments, alone or in combination, meet or equal the criteria of an impairment set forth in the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments (the “Listings”), 20 C.F.R. Subpart P, Appendix 1?
4. Considering the claimant's RFC, can he or she perform his or her past relevant work?
5. Assuming the claimant can no longer perform his or her past relevant work -- and also considering the claimant's age, education, past work experience, and RFC -- do significant numbers of other jobs exist in the national economy which the claimant can perform?

20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). A claimant bears the ultimate burden of establishing disability under the Social Security Act's definition. Key v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 109 F.3d 270, 274 (6th Cir. 1997). However, “[t]he burden shifts to the Commissioner at [the] fifth step to establish the claimant's ability to do other work.” Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 354 (6th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). The ALJ in this case found Plaintiff had no medically determinable impairments. (Tr. 14-17). Accordingly, the ALJ found that she was not disabled at step two of the sequential evaluation process. Notably, Plaintiff is only challenging the ALJ's findings related to her alleged mental impairments.

         II. ...


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