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Mcintosh v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 19, 2017

BELINDA SUE MCINTOSH, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER AND REMANDING PURSUANT TO SENTENCE FOUR OF 42 U.S.C. § 405(G)

          S. THOMAS ANDERSON CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Belinda Sue McIntosh filed this action to obtain judicial review of Defendant Commissioner's final decision denying her application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”). Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which was held on December 12, 2012. On January 23, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision, finding that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, and, thus, the decision of the ALJ became the Commissioner's final decision. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED, and the action is REMANDED pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a claimant may obtain judicial review of any final decision made by the Commissioner after a hearing to which he or she was a party. “The court shall have the power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.”[1] The Court's review is limited to determining whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision, [2] and whether the correct legal standards were applied.[3]

         Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”[4] It is “more than a mere scintilla of evidence, but less than a preponderance.”[5] The Commissioner, not the Court, is charged with the duty to weigh the evidence, to make credibility determinations and resolve material conflicts in the testimony, and to decide the case accordingly.[6] When substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's determination, it is conclusive, even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion.[7] “[W]hen there is not substantial evidence to support one of the ALJ's factual findings and his decision therefore must be reversed, the appropriate remedy is not to award benefits. The case can be remanded under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further consideration.”[8]

         Pursuant to sentence four, a District Court may “enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” The Court may immediately award Plaintiff benefits “only if all essential factual issues have been resolved and the record adequately establishes a plaintiff's entitlement to benefits.”[9] “A judicial award of benefits is proper only where the proof of disability is overwhelming or where the proof of disability is strong and evidence to the contrary is lacking.”[10] These factors are not present in this case, and, therefore, an immediate award of benefits is not appropriate. However, a remand pursuant to sentence four of § 405(g) is appropriate because all essential issues have not been resolved.

         Plaintiff was born on September 27, 1961. In her disability report, she alleged disability based on bipolar disorder, manic depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder. She amended her alleged onset of disability at the hearing to September 27, 2011. She has past relevant work as a sewing machine operator.

         The ALJ enumerated the following findings: (1) Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2014; (2) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged amended onset date; (3) Plaintiff has severe impairments and history of depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, back disorder, disorder of the left shoulder, and obesity, but she does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or equal a listing; (4) Plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity to perform light work except that she can perform no climbing, overhead reaching, kneeling, or crawling; she can perform occasional stooping and crouching; and she needs simple, routine tasks with no exposure to the public and only occasional collaborative efforts with co-workers and supervisors; (5) Plaintiff can perform her past relevant work; (6) Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Act at any time through the date of this decision.[11]

         The Social Security Act defines disability as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity.[12] The claimant bears the ultimate burden of establishing an entitlement to benefits.[13]The initial burden of going forward is on the claimant to show that he or she is disabled from engaging in his or her former employment; the burden of going forward then shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate the existence of available employment compatible with the claimant's disability and background.[14]

         The Commissioner conducts the following, five-step analysis to determine if an individual is disabled within the meaning of the Act:

1. An individual who is engaging in substantial gainful activity will not be found to be disabled regardless of medical findings.
2. An individual who does not have a severe impairment will not be found to be disabled.
3. A finding of disability will be made without consideration of vocational factors, if an individual is not working and is suffering from a severe impairment which meets the duration requirement and which meets or equals a listed impairment in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations.
4. An individual who can perform work that he or she has done in the past will not be found to be disabled.
5. If an individual cannot perform his or her past work, other factors including age, education, past work experience and residual functional capacity must be considered to ...

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