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Minton v. Berryhill

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

September 11, 2017

DEANNA W. MINTON, 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(b), Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the consent of the parties [Doc. 15]. Now before the Court is the Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 10 & 11] and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 12 & 13]. Deanna W. Minton ("the Plaintiff) seeks judicial review of the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ"), the final decision of the Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"). For the reasons that follow, the Court will DENY the Plaintiffs motion, and GRANT the Commissioner's motion.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On October 17, 2012 the Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits, claiming a period of disability which began February 1, 2008. [Tr. 129-36]. After her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, the Plaintiff requested a hearing. [Tr. 85]. During the hearing, the Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to September 1, 2012. [Tr. 9, 30-31]. On May 5, 2015, following a hearing, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was "not disabled." [Tr. 6-25]. The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiffs request for review [Tr. 1-3], and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted her administrative remedies, the Plaintiff filed a Complaint with this Court on July 22, 2016, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision under Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act. [Doc. 1]. The parties have filed competing dispositive motions, and this matter is now ripe for adjudication.

         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's decision 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, and whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Blakley v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec, 581 F.3d 399, 405 (6th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted); Wilson v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec, 378 F.3d 541, 544 (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) (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) (citation omitted).

         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) (citation omitted).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Disability is evaluated pursuant to a five-step analysis summarized as follows:

1. If claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled.
2. If claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity, his impairment must be severe before he can be found to be disabled.
3. If claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity and is suffering from a severe impairment that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and his impairment meets or equals a listed impairment, claimant is presumed disabled without further inquiry.
4. If claimant's impairment does not prevent him from doing his past relevant work, he is not disabled.
5. Even if claimant's impairment does prevent him from doing his past relevant work, if other work exists in the national economy that accommodates his residual functional capacity ("RFC") and vocational factors (age, education, skills, etc.), he is not disabled.

Walters v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec, 127 F.3d 525, 529 (6th Cir. 1997) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520). The claimant bears the burden of proof at the first four steps. Id. The burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Id. At the fifth step, the Commissioner must prove that there is work available in the national economy that the claimant could perform. Her v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec, 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th Cir. 1999) (citing Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 (1987)).

         On appeal, the Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred at step two by failing to find the Plaintiffs diagnosis of multifocal conduction block neuropathy was a severe impairment. [Doc. 11 at 5]. The Plaintiff also contends that the ALJ erred at step three, arguing that her impairment meets Listings 1.02B and 11.14. [Id. at 5-6]. Additionally, the Plaintiff submits that the ALJ's RFC determination is not supported by substantial evidence, because the ALJ did not properly weigh the medical opinion of the Plaintiffs treating physician, Darrell Thomas, M.D., or the Plaintiffs subjective allegations. [Id. at 6-8]. As a result of the ALJ's failure to properly assess the Plaintiffs RFC, the Plaintiff further contends that the ALJ's finding at step four-that the Plaintiff has past relevant work she can perform-is likewise flawed. [Id. at 8-9]. The Court will address each alleged error in turn.

         1.Step ...


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