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Boden v. Berryhill

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

September 27, 2017

AUDREY J. BODEN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


         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. 11]. Now before the Court is the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Brief in Support [Docs. 21 & 12] and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 18 & 19]. The Plaintiff also filed a Reply Brief [Doc. 17]. Audrey J. Boden (“Boden”) 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 August 2012, Boden filed an application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, claiming a period of disability that began on June 5, 2012. After her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Boden requested a hearing before an ALJ. Following a hearing, the ALJ found the Plaintiff was “not disabled” [Tr. 20-30]. The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review [Tr. 1-5], making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Boden filed a Complaint with this Court on June 13, 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.


         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

         Boden was 59 years of age at the date of the ALJ's decision. Boden has a high school education and additional training as a nurse's aid and patient care tech. She was employed as a medical billing clerk at the time she stopped working in November, 2010 [Tr. 39].

         The ALJ found that Boden was “diagnosed with multiple impairments supported by objective medical evidence, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and degenerative disc disease, which could account for the claimant's pain” [Tr. 23]. The ALJ also found that Boden “has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, panic disorder, and unspecified drug dependence, ” but that these impairments cause no more than “minimal limitation in the claimant's ability to perform basic mental work activities and are therefore nonsevere” [Tr. 23]. The ALJ concluded at step four that Boden is capable of performing her past relevant work as a medical billing clerk/medical receptionist, and therefore, Boden was not under a disability during the applicable time period [Tr. 29-30].

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

         Disability is evaluated pursuant to a five-step analysis ...

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