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Goodwin v. Berryhill

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

September 19, 2017

JANELLE D. GOODWIN, 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. 19]. 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. 20 & 21]. Janelle D. Goodwin (“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 Plaintiff's motion, and GRANT the Commissioner's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

In April 2014, the Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits and for supplemental security income, claiming a period of disability that began on February 3, 2014. [Tr. 238, 286, 312]. After her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, the Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. [Tr. 144]. Following a hearing, the ALJ found the Plaintiff was “not disabled.” [Tr. 21-34]. The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review [Tr. 1-6], making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted her administrative remedies, the Plaintiff filed a Complaint with this Court on July 12, 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. Having considered the medical evidence in the record, the testimony at the hearing, and all other evidence in the record, the Court finds that the medical history of the Plaintiff and the content of the ALJ's decision are not in dispute, and need not be repeated here.

         The Court notes the Plaintiff's brief is 29 pages with excessive footnotes (69 in total). The Court directs Plaintiff's counsel to Local Rule 7.1(b) which states, briefs “shall not exceed 25 pages in length unless otherwise ordered by the Court.” E.D. Tenn. L.R. 7.1(b). Counsel is directed to seek leave of Court for future filings that exceed the 25 page limit.

         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. Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004); Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 405 (6th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted).

         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

         The Plaintiff contends that the ALJ's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination and step five finding are not supported by substantial evidence.

         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 ...

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