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Lee v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

May 23, 2017

RHONDA L. LEE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         Before the Court is the Social Security action of the Plaintiff, Rhonda L. Lee, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). She applied for DIB on December 1, 2008, alleging disability as of November 8, 2007. The claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Following a hearing conducted on June 16, 2010, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Jerry M. Lang denied her claim in an opinion issued October 13, 2010. Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision was denied by the Appeals Council on June 8, 2012, and this action was commenced shortly thereafter.


         At the hearing before the ALJ, Lee testified that she had a high school education and past work as a nurse's assistant, casting factory worker, and sewing factory employee. Plaintiff told the ALJ that, on November 8, 2007, while employed as a nurse's assistant in a nursing facility, she was helping a patient get into bed when she fell and injured her back. She reported constant pain, as well as depression, anxiety, lack of concentration, and poor memory and focus. Her pain was alleviated to some extent by medications but it nonetheless affected her concentration and memory, and required that she lie down several times during the day with a pillow between her legs. The claimant also took medications for depression and anxiety.

         Lee testified that she could lift and carry no more than five pounds, stand for no more than thirty minutes at a time, sit for about twenty minutes, walk less than a quarter block, and rated her pain as a six out of ten. According to the claimant, she would start basic housework and have to lie down and rest before completing the task. Plaintiff stated that she could not drive, “stand over and watch” a meal, bathe in a bathtub, or go outside. She advised the ALJ that, on an average day, when she felt like getting out of bed, she would take her medicine and return to bed until the pain began to subside. Then she would get up again and move to the couch, prop up her feet, and put a frozen dinner in the microwave if she was hungry. She stayed in a prone position most of the day because it hurt to sit up.


         Upon hearing testimony and reviewing the evidence, the ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2012.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 8, 2007, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease and affective mood disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity [(“RFC”)] to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a).[2] The claimant also has the following nonexertional limitations: work that does not require the ability to understand, remember, or carry out detailed or complex job instructions, or that requires more than two hours of sustained concentration without a break.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant was born on October 24, 1966 and was 41 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).
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 and 404.1569(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from November 8, 2007, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g)).

         (Administrative Record (“AR”) 16-22.)


         The claimant raises three challenges to the ALJ's unfavorable ruling:

1. ALJ Lang erred as a matter of law in not finding that Ms. Lee's Affective and Anxiety Disorders meet and/or are medically equivalent to Listing(s) 12.04 and/or 12.06[;]
2. ALJ Lang erred as a matter of law in not according adequate weight to the medical opinions and findings of Ms. Lee's treating providers, and instead finding that Ms. Lee can perform a full range of unskilled sedentary work activities[; and]
3. The Commissioner erred as a matter of law in failing to sustain his burden of establishing that there is other work in the national economy Ms. Lee can perform.

         (Docket Entry (“D.E.”) 9 at PageID 546.)


         A federal court's review of the Social Security Administration's denial of a claim for benefits “is limited to determining whether it is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards.” Gentry v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 741 F.3d 708, 722 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007)). “Substantial evidence requires more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Miller v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 811 F.3d 825, 833 (6th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks omitted). “This standard presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which the decisionmakers can go either way, without interference by the courts.” Sorrell v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 656 F. App'x 162, 168 (6th Cir. 2016) (quoting Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir. 2009)) (internal quotation marks omitted). “If substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, then reversal is unwarranted even if substantial evidence backs the opposite conclusion.” Turk v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 647 F. App'x 638, 639 (6th Cir. 2016) (citing Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007)). Stated differently, “[u]pon a finding that there is ...

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