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Hughes v. Berryhill

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

September 27, 2017

DAVID S. HUGHES, 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(c), Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the consent of the parties [Doc. 17]. Now before the Court is the Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 12 & 13] and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 14 & 15]. David S. Hughes (“Hughes”) seeks judicial review of the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”), the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”).

         Hughes filed for Disability Insurance Benefits in January, 2013. The application was denied, and denied again on reconsideration. Following a hearing, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision (“the Decision”) on June 23, 2015 (Tr. 24-35). The Decision became final when the Appeals Council denied review in April, 2016 (Tr. 1-3).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Hughes was 45 years of age when the ALJ issued the Decision in this case (Tr. 34). Hughes graduated from high school and he attended two years of college (Tr. 177). His past relevant work experience is a physical therapy assistant (Tr. 49-50). Hughes alleges an onset of disability in April, 2012, as the result of an automobile accident in which he sustained multiple fractures and other injuries. The Plaintiff alleges disability based on physical problems, pain and cognitive impairments.

         The Court has considered the medical evidence in the record, the testimony at the hearing, and all other evidence in the record. The medical history of the Plaintiff and the content of the ALJ's Decision are not in dispute, and need not be repeated here.

         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 applied the correct legal standards and whether the findings of the ALJ are supported by substantial evidence.” Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 405 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997)). If the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and his findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record, his decision is conclusive and must be affirmed. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (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) (citing Kirk v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 535 (6th Cir. 1981)) (internal 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) (citing Myers v. Richardson, 471 F.2d 1265 (6th Cir. 1972)).

         In addition to reviewing the ALJ's findings to determine whether they were supported by substantial evidence, the Court also reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether it 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. See Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004).

         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) (citing Halsey v. Richardson, 441 F.2d 1230 (6th Cir. 1971)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         As a threshold matter, Hughes argues that the Appeals Council erred by failing to review Plaintiff's application for benefits following the submission of new and material evidence. The Defendant argues that Hughes has failed to meet his burden of showing that the new evidence is material.

         Hughes submitted a request for review to the Appeals Council on July 7, 2015 (Tr. 12-20). He submitted new evidence in support of his appeal on October 30, 2015 in the form of a Vocational Report from Mark Boatner dated October 8, 2015.

         In summary, Boatner opined that there were no jobs available that Hughes would be capable of performing with the RFC ...


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