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Thornton v. Berryhill

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

September 27, 2017

MARILYN M. THORNTON, 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. 23]. Now before the Court is the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 17 & 18] and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 21 & 22]. Marilyn M. Thornton (“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

         This is the Plaintiff's second appeal before the District Court seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. On August 6, 2014, Chief Judge Varlan remanded the Plaintiff's prior civil action for additional proceedings. [Tr. 718, 798-816]. During the pendency of that civil action, the Plaintiff filed a subsequent application, her third application in total, for Title II disability insurance benefits. [Tr. 718]. When Chief Judge Varlan remanded the prior civil action, the Appeals Council consolidated the Plaintiff's subsequent, third application with the remand case and assigned a new ALJ to the instant matter. [Id.].

         The ALJ held a new hearing on December 8, 2015. [Tr. 738-75]. On March 16, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. [Tr. 718-30]. The ALJ found that the Plaintiff was “not disabled” between her alleged onset date of July 1, 2009, and her date last insured of December 31, 2012. [Id.]. The Plaintiff did not seek review from the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Having exhausted her administrative remedies once again, the Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint now before the Court on May 16, 2016, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's 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 FINDGINS

         The ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2012.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of July 1, 2009, through her date last insured of December 31, 2012. (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and borderline personality disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled 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, I find that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: she is able to understand, remember, and carry out simple and one-three-step detailed instructions but is limited to work which requires no public interaction, occasional interaction with supervisors and co-workers, and no more than occasional changes in the workplace. She can work better with things than with people.
6. Through the date last insured, the claimant was unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant was born on May 9, 1965 and at onset was 46 years old at, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49. She was 47 years old on the date she was last insured (20 CFR 404.1563).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or not she has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Through the date last insured, considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant could have performed (20 CFR 404.1569 and 404.1569(a)).
11. The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from July 1, 2009, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2012, the date last insured (20 CFR 404.1520(g)).

[Tr. 720-29].

         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

         “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.” § 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. ...


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