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Salmen v. Berryhill

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

September 27, 2017

DUANE J. SALMEN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          C. CLIFFORD SHIRLEY, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         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 Judgment on the Administrative Record and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 13 & 14] and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 15 & 16]. Duane J. Salmen (“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. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On May 21, 2012, the Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), claiming a period of disability which began December 27, 2011. [Tr. 60, 147-49]. After his application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, the Plaintiff requested a hearing. [Tr. 103]. A hearing was held before the ALJ on May 6, 2014 [Tr. 29-58], and on July 25, 2014, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not “disabled” [Tr. 13-28]. The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review [Tr. 1-6]; thus, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted his administrative remedies, the Plaintiff filed a Complaint with this Court on May 4, 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. ALJ FINDINGS

         The ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2017.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 27, 2011, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1457 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: neck disorder, status post repair of two hernias, left hip disorder, back disorder, diabetes mellitus, and obesity (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except the claimant must avoid all climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds and is able occasionally to climb ramps and stairs; balance; stoop; kneel; crouch; and crawl. He should avoid working in high, exposed places. He is able to frequently reach with both upper extremities.
6. The claimant is capable of performing past work as product manager, sedentary skilled (DOT 163.167-018) and rental car clerk, light, semiskilled (DOT 295.467-026). This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from December 27, 2011, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(f)).

         [Tr. 18-24].

         III. 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).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         This case involves an application for DIB. An individual qualifies for DIB if he or she: (1) is insured for DIB; (2) has not reached the age of retirement; (3) has filed an application for DIB; and (4) is disabled. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1).

         “Disability” is the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” § ...


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