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Matthews v. Berryhill

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

September 1, 2017

JACKIE HAROLD MATTHEWS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         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. Now before the Court is the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 14 & 15] and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 16 & 17]. Jackie Harold Matthews (“Matthews”) seeks judicial review of the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”), the final decision of the Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”).

         Matthews filed for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits and SSI in October, 2012 (Tr. 151-152). The application was denied (Tr. 97-100) and denied again on reconsideration (Tr. 108-11). Following a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) entered an unfavorable decision in October, 2014 (Tr. 8-16). The decision became final when the Appeals Council denied review (Tr. 1-3).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Matthews was 52 years of age when the ALJ issued the Decision in this case (Tr. 151). His past relevant work experience is as a warehouse laborer, dish washer, and janitor (Tr. 179).

         The Plaintiff alleges disability based on hernias, high blood pressure, poor reading and writing skills, left knee injury, carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis in his hands (Tr. 178). The Plaintiff claims an onset of disability date of November 30, 2008 (Tr. 151). Based on the medical evidence, the testimony of Matthews, the testimony of a vocational expert, and the entire record in this case, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was capable of performing work, and therefore, was not disabled (Tr. 16).

         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.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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

         Plaintiff's claim before this Court two-fold: (1) that the ALJ's RFC is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ improperly evaluated the opinions of Jeffrey Uzzle, M.D. and William Kenney, Ph.D., and (2) that the ALJ erred in applying the medical-vocational guidelines (“guidelines”). The Defendant argues that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that Matthews could perform work and is not disabled. The Court agrees with the Defendant, and finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision. The Court will address the Plaintiff's arguments in turn.

         A. The ALJ's Evaluation of the Opinion Evidence of ...


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