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Harris v. Berryhill

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

August 24, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


         This case is before the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the consent of the parties [Doc. 12]. Now before the Court is the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 13 & 14] and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 15 & 16]. Jeffrey S. Harris (“Harris”) seeks judicial review of the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”), the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”).

         Harris filed for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits in October, 2014 (Tr. 144). The application was denied (Tr. 67) and denied again on reconsideration (Tr. 78). Following a hearing, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision (“the Decision”) on September 10, 2015 (Tr. 16-25). The Decision became final when the Appeals Council denied review on January 14, 2016 (Tr. 1-4).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Harris was 52 years of age when the ALJ issued the Decision in this case (Tr. 25). Harris graduated from high school and was in the United States Army from 1981 to 2001 (Tr. 169). Post-Army his past relevant work experience is injection mold tech, security officer, corrections officer, warehouse manager, and jailer, the last job he held, from January, 2014 to April 14, 2014 (Tr. 169).

         Harris does not allege that he stopped his job as a jailer due to disability. Harris testified that he quit that job after a disagreement with his supervisor. According to Harris, the supervisor wanted Harris to “lift some heavy items.” Harris said he couldn't do it, there was a “disagreement, ” and Harris told his supervisor, “I don't need this. I'm out of here” (Tr. 48). This occurred on April 11, 2014.

         The Plaintiff alleges disability based on knee problems, which require him to wear knee braces and use a walking crutch or cane (Tr. 38). He also states that he must sit and elevate his legs after standing for 15-20 minutes (Tr. 40). Harris also complains of hip and back pain (Tr. 41). Harris alleges an onset date of April 11, 2014, the day he quit his job as a jailer (Tr. 144).

         The Court has considered the medical evidence in the record, the testimony at the hearing, and all other evidence in the record. The medical history of the Plaintiff and the content of the ALJ's Decision are not in dispute, and need not be repeated here.


         When reviewing the Commissioner's determination of whether an individual is disabled pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court is limited to determining “whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether the findings of the ALJ are supported by substantial evidence.” Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 405 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997)). If the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and his findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record, his decision is conclusive and must be affirmed. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004). Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing Kirk v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 535 (6th Cir. 1981)) (internal citations omitted).

         It is immaterial whether the record may also possess substantial evidence to support a different conclusion from that reached by the ALJ, or whether the reviewing judge may have decided the case differently. Crisp v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 790 F.2d 450, 453 n.4 (6th Cir. 1986). The substantial evidence standard is intended to create a “‘zone of choice' within which the Commissioner can act, without the fear of court interference.” Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 773 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986)). Therefore, the Court will not “try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of credibility.” Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984) (citing Myers v. Richardson, 471 F.2d 1265 (6th Cir. 1972)).

         In addition to reviewing the ALJ's findings to determine whether they were supported by substantial evidence, the Court also reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether it was reached through application of the correct legal standards and in accordance with the procedure mandated by the regulations and rulings promulgated by the Commissioner. See Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004).

         On review, the plaintiff “bears the burden of proving his entitlement to benefits.” Boyes v. Sec'y. of Health & Human Servs., 46 F.3d 510, 512 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing Halsey v. Richardson, 441 F.2d 1230 (6th Cir. 1971)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Harris argues that the ALJ did not properly consider his use of a cane and knee braces in the RFC finding. Harris testified at the hearing that he uses knee braces, prescribed by his doctor, and the walking crutch to help support him so his legs do not lock as he has a tendency to fall if he does not have them (Tr. 38). On February 14, 2013, Dr. Dale E. Whitson, MD, diagnosed chronic internal derangement of the left knee, and right knee pain and stiffness, and referred Harris for an orthopedic consult for braces and to “obtain a cane” (Tr. 430-31). Thereafter, Harris received a cane, which he was instructed “to use in right hand, ” and a left knee brace for stability (Tr. 419). Dr. Judson C. McGowan, MD, completed a knee and lower extremity questionnaire for the Veterans Administration and reported that Harris uses a cane ...

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