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Hosier v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville Division

September 7, 2017

VENIDA SUE HOSIER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          CLIFTON L. CORKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the United States Magistrate Judge, with the consent of the parties and by order of reference [Doc. 12] pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636, for disposition and entry of a final judgment. Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act was administratively denied following a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). This is an action for judicial review of that final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff has filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. 13], and the defendant Commissioner has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 15].

         I. Standard of Review

         The sole function of this Court in making this review is to determine whether the findings of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence in the record. McCormick v. Secretary of Health & Hum. Servs., 861 F.2d 998, 1001 (6th Cir. 1988). “Substantial evidence” is defined as evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the challenged conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971). It must be enough to justify, if the trial were to a jury, a refusal to direct a verdict when the conclusion sought to be drawn is one of fact for the jury. Consolo v. Fed. Maritime Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607 (1966). The Court may 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). Even if the reviewing court were to resolve the factual issues differently, the Commissioner's decision must stand if supported by substantial evidence. Liestenbee v. Sec. of Health & Hum. Servs., 846 F.2d 345, 349 (6th Cir. 1988). Yet, even if supported by substantial evidence, “a decision of the Commissioner will not be upheld where the SSA fails to follow its own regulations and where that error prejudices a claimant on the merits or deprives the claimant of a substantial right.” Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 746 (6th Cir. 2007).

         The applicable administrative regulations require the Commissioner to utilize a five-step sequential evaluation process for disability determinations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). Although a dispositive finding at any step ends the ALJ's review, see Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007), the complete sequential review poses five questions:

1. Is the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity?
2. Does the claimant suffer from one or more severe impairments?
3. Do the claimant's severe impairments, alone or in combination, meet or equal the criteria of an impairment set forth in the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments (the “Listings”), 20 C.F.R. Subpart P, Appendix 1?
4. Considering the claimant's RFC, can he or she perform his or her past relevant work?
5. Assuming the claimant can no longer perform his or her past relevant work -- and also considering the claimant's age, education, past work experience, and RFC -- do significant numbers of other jobs exist in the national economy which the claimant can perform?

20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of establishing disability under the Social Security Act's definition. Key v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 109 F.3d 270, 274 (6th Cir. 1997). However, “[t]he burden shifts to the Commissioner at [the] fifth step to establish the claimant's ability to do other work.” Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 354 (6th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted).

         II. Procedural History and Relevant Facts

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff, Venida Sue Hosier, was born in 1964 and was a younger individual at the time of her application for benefits. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(d). She filed an application for disability insurance benefits alleging disability due to seizures, diabetes, imbalance, and slurred speech (Tr. 143). Plaintiff's application was initially denied on December 4, 2012, and again upon reconsideration on May 17, 2013 (Tr. 15). On October 31, 2014, the ALJ conducted an administrative hearing, during which Plaintiff and a vocational expert testified (Tr. 28-49).

         In evaluating Plaintiff's claim, the ALJ conducted the five-step analysis. The ALJ issued his opinion on April 24, 2015, with the following findings, ...


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