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Smith v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

October 19, 2017




          Norah McCann King, United States Magistrate Judge

         This is an action instituted under the provisions of 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c) for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff's application for supplemental security income. This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record (Doc. No. 16)(“Motion for Judgment”), Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record (Doc. No. 17)(“Response”), and the administrative record (Doc. No. 10).[1] For the following reasons, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that the Motion for Judgment (Doc. 16) be GRANTED, that the decision of the Commissioner be REVERSED, and that the matter be REMANDED to the Commissioner of Social Security, pursuant to Sentence 4 of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for further consideration of whether Plaintiff's intellectual impairment meets or equals Listing 12.05C.


         Plaintiff filed her application for supplemental security income on June 22, 2009. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration and Plaintiff requested a de novo hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). An administrative hearing was originally held in December 2011, Tr. 65-83, following which the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 89-104. On July 2, 2013, however, the Appeals Council remanded the case for further consideration of Plaintiff's alleged substance use disorder, residual functional capacity (“RFC”), and past relevant work. Tr. 110-12. A second administrative hearing was held on October 18, 2013, before a different ALJ. Tr. 41-64. Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified at that hearing, as did Dana M. Stoller, who testified as a vocational expert.

         In a decision dated December 20, 2013, the ALJ held that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act from the date of her application for benefits through the date of the administrative decision. That decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security when the Appeals Council declined review on February 16, 2016.

         This action was thereafter timely filed. This Court has jurisdiction over the matter. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Standard of Review

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g), judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to determining whether the findings of the ALJ are supported by substantial evidence and employed the proper legal standards. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971); Cole v. Astrue, 661 F.3d 931, 937 (6th Cir. 2011)(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 405 (6thCir. 2009); Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 475 (6th Cir. 2003). This Court does not try the case de novo, nor does it resolve conflicts in the evidence or questions of credibility. Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007).

         In determining the existence of substantial evidence, this Court must examine the administrative record as a whole. Kirk v. Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 667 F.2d 524, 536 (6th Cir. 1982). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it must be affirmed even if this Court would decide the matter differently, Tyra v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 896 F.2d 1024, 1028 (6th Cir. 1990)(citing Kinsella v. Schweiker, 708 F.2d 1058, 1059 (6th Cir. 1983)), and even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion. Longworth v. Commissioner Social Security Administration, 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005)(citing Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004)).

         The Findings and Conclusions of the ALJ In her decision, the ALJ made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 22, 2009, the application date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: right carpal tunnel syndrome status post release in 2009; obesity; depressive disorder not otherwise specified; mild mental retardation versus borderline intellectual functioning; rule out personality disorder; polysubstance dependence; rule out borderline intellectual functioning; and rule out learning disorder (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
3. 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 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
4. 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 416.967(b) occasional lifting of thirty pounds, frequent lifting of fifteen pounds, standing and walking for five to six hours total in an eight-hour workday, and sitting for seven hours total in an eight-hour workday. When not using substances, the claimant can understand, remember, and carry out simple, one- and two-step instructions only and make simple, repetitive decisions. The claimant is able to ask simple questions or request assistance if needed; able to maintain attention for periods of at least two hours and complete a normal work week with acceptable performance and productivity under normal supervision; able to maintain regular attendance, able to be punctual within customary tolerances, and able to sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision. In addition, the claimant is able to accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; able to interact appropriately with peers and supervisors; able to work with the general public; and able to set goals. The claimant should avoid hazards and is able to adapt to infrequent workplace changes.
5. The claimant is able to perform her past relevant work as an assembler (20 CFR 416.965).
6. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since June 22, 2009, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.920(g)).

Tr. 17, 21, 35-36.

         Summary and ALJ's Evaluation ...

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