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Brawner v. Social Security Administration

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

July 12, 2017





         This is an action instituted under the provisions of 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383 for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record (Doc. No. 9)(“Motion for Judgment”) and Memorandum in Support (Doc. No. 10), Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record (Doc. No. 11)(“Response”), and the administrative record (Doc. No. 5).[1] For the following reasons, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that the Motion for Judgment be DENIED, that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED, and that final judgment be entered in favor of the Commissioner pursuant to Sentence 4 of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         Plaintiff filed her current applications for benefits in January 2012, alleging that she has been disabled since December 29, 2009, by reason of both physical and mental impairments. See Tr. 334. The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration and Plaintiff requested a de novo hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”).

         A number of administrative hearings were held. On September 18, 2013, the ALJ continued the hearing to permit Plaintiff to obtain counsel. Tr. 126-31. At a supplemental hearing held on January 24, 2014, Plaintiff, appearing with counsel, testified, as did vocational expert Chelsea Brown. Tr. 83-124. A second supplemental hearing was held on June 27, 2014, following a consultative medical examination of Plaintiff. Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified at that hearing, as did Rebecca Williams, who testified as a vocational expert. Tr. 49-63.

         In a decision dated August 16, 2014, the ALJ held that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act from her alleged date of onset through the date of the administrative decision. That decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security when the Appeals Council declined review on December 15, 2015.

         This action was thereafter timely filed. This Court has jurisdiction over the matter. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         The Findings and Conclusions of the ALJ

         In his decision, the ALJ made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2015.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 29, 2009, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following medically determinable impairments: obesity, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and cervical spine, L4-5 spondylosis and mild stenosis, arthritis, postural disc protrusion with annular tear at C5-6 with moderate stenosis, mild C6 radiculopathy, sciatica, fibromyalgia, polycystic ovary syndrome, mild carpal tunnel syndrome, left ulnar entrapment, bipolar disorder, personality disorder, mood disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, and history of alcohol abuse (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), except the claimant can occasionally lift and/or carry twenty pounds, and frequently lift and/or carry ten pounds. During an eight-hour workday, the claimant can sit for eight hours. The claimant can stand and/or walk for at least two hours, with normal breaks, in an eight-hour workday. The claimant can occasionally push and/or pull objects with her lower extremities. She can frequently use her bilateral upper extremities for handling and fingering. The claimant can occasionally reach overhead with her left upper extremity. The claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme temperatures, and workplace hazards such as moving machinery and unprotected heights. The claimant can understand, remember, and carry out detailed tasks and instructions.
6. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a Benefits Clerk and Receptionist. 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 December 29, 2009, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(1) and 416.920(1)).

(Tr. 22-23, 25, 39-40).

         Plaintiff's Claims

         Plaintiff asserts the following claims:

1. The ALJ improperly assigned less weight to the treating physician's opinion of limitations.
2. The ALJ failed to properly perform decisional duties at Step Three of the Sequential Evaluation.

         Memorandum in Support (Doc. No. 10, PageID# 889-892). Plaintiff does not challenge the ALJ's credibility determination, nor does she challenge the vocational evidence.

         Standard of Review

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g), judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to determining whether the findings of the ALJ are supported by substantial evidence and employed the proper legal standards. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971); Cole v. Astrue, 661 F.3d 931, 937 (6th Cir. 2011)(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 405 (6thCir. 2009); Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,336 F.3d 469, 475 (6th Cir. 2003). This ...

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