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Rinker v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 27, 2017

DONNA RINKER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          SUSAN K. LEE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Donna Rinker (“Plaintiff”) brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denying her disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Each party has moved for judgment [Docs. 17 & 21] with supporting briefs [Docs. 18 & 22]. This matter is now ripe. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the administrative record [Doc. 17] shall be GRANTED IN PART to the extent it seeks remand to the Commissioner and DENIED IN PART to the extent it seeks an award of benefits; (2) the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment [Doc. 21] shall be DENIED; and (3) the decision of the Commissioner shall be REVERSED and REMANDED pursuant to Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         Plaintiff filed her application for DIB on July 10, 2013, alleging disability beginning March 6, 2013 [Doc. 10 (“Tr.”) 20, 138]. Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration at the agency level (Tr. 20, 65, 78). The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on July 1, 2015, during which Plaintiff was represented by a non-attorney representative/social security consultant (Tr. 14, 38-53). The ALJ found on August 14, 2015, that Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act (“Act”) (Tr. 20-33). On July 16, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner (Tr. 1-3). Plaintiff timely filed the instant action.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. Education and Employment Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1963 (Tr. 31). She completed high school and is able to communicate in English (Tr. 31). Plaintiff's past relevant work history includes working as a long-time administrative assistant (Tr. 31).

         B. Medical Records

         In her Disability Report, Plaintiff alleged disability due to bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety (Tr. 195). The administrative record contains extensive medical records, but only the portions of Plaintiff's medical records relevant to the parties' arguments will be addressed within the respective sections of the analysis below. All relevant records have been reviewed.

         C. Hearing Testimony

         The transcript of the testimony at the hearing has been carefully reviewed. Both Plaintiff and Rodney Caldwell, Ph.D., a vocational expert, testified (Tr. 38-53). While it is not necessary to summarize the testimony herein, the testimony will be addressed as appropriate within the respective sections of the analysis below.

         III. ELIGIBILITY AND THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         A. Eligibility

         “The Social Security Act defines a disability as 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 12 months.'” Schmiedebusch v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 536 F. App'x 637, 646 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)); see also Parks v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 413 F. App'x 856, 862 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). A claimant is disabled “only 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.” Parks, 413 F. App'x at 862 (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)). The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) determines eligibility for disability benefits by following a five-step process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The five-step process provides:

1) If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, the claimant is not disabled.
2) If the claimant does not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment-i.e., an impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities-the claimant is not disabled.
3) If the claimant has a severe impairment(s) that meets or equals one of the listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations and meets the duration requirement, the claimant is disabled.
4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him or her from doing his or her past relevant work, the ...

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