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West v. Berryhill

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

May 31, 2017

NICHOLAS ANTHONY WEST, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is Nicholas Anthony West's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record (“Motion”) (Doc. No. 14), filed with a Memorandum in Support (Doc. No. 15). The Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) filed a Response in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion. (Doc. No. 16.) On November 19, 2014, this case was referred to a Magistrate Judge. (Doc. No. 3.) The Court hereby withdraws that referral. In addition, upon consideration of the parties' filings and the transcript of the administrative record (Doc. No. 10), [2] and for the reasons stated herein, the Court will grant Plaintiff's Motion (Doc. No. 14). This case is reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion.

         I. Introduction

         On February 22, 2008, West was found to be disabled as of November 1, 2006. (Tr. 17.) On February 10, 2012, it was determined that he was no longer disabled as of February 1, 2012. (Tr. 17.) This decision was upheld at the reconsideration stage of state agency review. (Tr. 47- 50, 61-63.) West subsequently requested de novo review of this case by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ initially heard the case on November 22, 2013, when West appeared without counsel and gave testimony. (Tr. 68-97.) A second hearing was held on March 20, 2014, where West again appeared without counsel and testified. (Tr. 35-67.) Testimony was also received from an impartial vocational expert. At the conclusion of the hearing, the matter was taken under advisement until May 9, 2014, when the ALJ issued a written decision finding that West's disability had ended. (Tr. 14-34.) That decision contains the following enumerated findings:

1. The most recent favorable medical decision finding that the claimant was disabled is the determination dated February 22, 2008. This is known as the “comparison point decision” or CPD.
2. At the time of the CPD, the claimant had the following medically determinable impairment: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This [sic] severity of this impairment resulted in an allowance of benefits.
3. Through February 1, 2012, the date the claimant's disability ended, the claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity (20 C.F.R. 404.1594(f)(1)).
4. The medical evidence establishes that, as of February 1, 2012, the claimant had the following medically determinable impairments: PTSD; major depressive disorder; mild bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome; mild degenerative osteoarthritis of bilateral feet; history of mild traumatic brain injury with residual headaches; history of left shoulder SLAP tear with surgical repair; tinnitus; mild low back pain; neck strain; and irritable bowel syndrome.
5. Since February 1, 2012, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments which met or medically equaled the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 404.1525 and 404.1526).
6. Medical improvement occurred as of February 1, 2012 (20 C.F.R. 404.1594(b)(1)).
7. As of February 1, 2012, the impairment present at the time of the CPD had decreased in medical severity to the point where the claimant had the residual functional capacity to: understand, remember, and carry out low-level detailed tasks and instructions; maintain concentration, persistence, and pace for low-level detailed tasks over a normal workday with appropriate breaks; relate appropriately to supervisors and coworkers but may have occasional difficulty interacting with the general public on a sustained basis especially in crowded situations and would be better working with objects rather than people; and able to adapt to routine changes in the workplace.
8. The claimant's medical improvement is related to the ability to work, because it resulted in an increase in the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 C.F.R. 404.1594(c)(3)(ii)).
9. As of February 1, 2012, the claimant continued to have a severe impairment or combination of impairments (20 C.F.R. 404.1594(f)(6)).
10. Based on the severe impairments present as of February 1, 2012, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: no frequent forceful or repetitive gripping or grasping with the bilateral upper extremities; no work around unprotected heights or dangerous machinery; no exposure to extremely bright lights or extremely loud noises due to headaches; and needs access to bathroom or restroom during all breaks and at lunchtime. In addition, the claimant can: understand, remember, and carry out low-level detailed tasks and instructions; maintain concentration, persistence, and pace for low-level detailed tasks over a normal workday with appropriate breaks; relate appropriately to supervisors and coworkers but may have occasional difficulty interacting with the general public on a sustained basis especially in crowded situations and would be better working with objects rather than people; and able to adapt to routine changes in the workplace.
11. As of February 1, 2012, the claimant was unable to perform past relevant work (20 C.F.R. 404.1565).
12. On February 1, 2012, the claimant was a younger individual age 18-49 (20 C.F.R. 404.1563).
13. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. 404.1564).
14. Beginning on February 1, 2012, transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using 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 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
15. As of February 1, 2012, considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity based on the impairments present as of February 1, 2012, the claimant was able to perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy (20 C.F.R. 404.1560(c) and 404.1566).
16. The claimant's disability ended as of February 1, 2012 (20 C.F.R. 404.1594(f)(8).

(Tr. 19-22, 27-29.)

         On September 9, 2014, and again on October 27, 2014, the Appeals Council denied West's requests for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-5, 6-8), thereby rendering that decision the final decision of the SSA. This civil action was ...


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