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McClure v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

December 1, 2017

A. DENNIS MCCLURE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER AND REMANDING PURSUANT TO SENTENCE FOUR OF 42 U.S.C. § 405(G)

          S. THOMAS ANDERSON CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff A. Dennis McClure filed this action to obtain judicial review of Defendant Commissioner's final decision denying his applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which was held on January 4, 2013. On May 17, 2013, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision, finding that Plaintiff became disabled on January 1, 2012, which was after his date last insured of September 30, 2011. The Appeals Council subsequently denied his request for review. Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the Commissioner's final decision. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED, and the action is REMANDED for additional testimony pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a claimant may obtain judicial review of any final decision made by the Commissioner after a hearing to which he was a party. “The court shall have the power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.”[1] The Court's review is limited to determining whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision, [2] and whether the correct legal standards were applied.[3]

         Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”[4] It is “more than a mere scintilla of evidence, but less than a preponderance.”[5] The Commissioner, not the Court, is charged with the duty to weigh the evidence, to make credibility determinations and resolve material conflicts in the testimony, and to decide the case accordingly.[6] When substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's determination, it is conclusive, even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion.[7]

         Pursuant to sentence four, a district court may “enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” The court may immediately award Plaintiff benefits “only if all essential factual issues have been resolved and the record adequately establishes a plaintiff's entitlement to benefits.”[8] “A judicial award of benefits is proper only where the proof of disability is overwhelming or where the proof of disability is strong and evidence to the contrary is lacking.”[9] These factors are not present in this case, and, therefore, an immediate award of benefits is not appropriate. However, a remand pursuant to sentence four of § 405(g) is appropriate because all essential issues have not been resolved.

         Plaintiff was born on February 28, 1965. In his disability report, he alleged disability due to back pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (“COPD”), lung problems, emphysema, and arthritis beginning October 13, 2007. He has an eleventh grade education and past work as an electrician and truck driver.

         The ALJ made the following findings: (1) Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through September 30, 2011; (2) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date; (3) since the alleged onset date, Plaintiff has had the following severe impairments: disorder of the back status post old compression fracture of L1 and L3 and COPD; beginning January 1, 2012, Plaintiff had the following additional impairments: major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder; (4) prior to January 1, 2012, Plaintiff did not have impairments, either alone or in combination, that met or equaled the requirements of any listed impairment contained in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 of the listing of impairments; (5) prior to January 1, 2012, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he was limited to frequent pushing and pulling with the bilateral lower extremities; frequent balancing, kneeling, crouching and crawling but only occasional stooping; occasionally climbing ramps and stairs with frequent climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; he was limited to far acuity and must avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes and humidity and should avoid moderate exposure to pulmonary irritants; (6) since October 13, 2007, Plaintiff has been unable to perform any past relevant work; (7) prior to the disability onset date, Plaintiff was a younger individual with a limited education; (8) prior to January 1, 2012, transferability of job skills was not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supported a finding that Plaintiff was not disabled whether or not he had transferable skills; (9) prior to January 1, 2012, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform; (10) beginning on January 1, 2012, the severity of Plaintiff's impairments met the criteria of § 12.04 of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 416.920(d), and 416.925); (11) Plaintiff was not disabled prior to January 1, 2012, but became disabled on that date and has continued to be disabled through the date of this decision; (12) Plaintiff was not under a disability within the meaning of the Act at any time through September 30, 2011, the date last insured.[10]

         The Social Security Act defines disability as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity.[11] The claimant bears the ultimate burden of establishing an entitlement to benefits.[12] The initial burden of going forward is on the claimant to show that he or she is disabled from engaging in his or her former employment; the burden of going forward then shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate the existence of available employment compatible with the claimant's disability and background.[13]

         The Commissioner conducts the following, five-step analysis to determine if an individual is disabled within the meaning of the Act:

1. An individual who is engaging in substantial gainful activity will not be found to be disabled regardless of medical findings.
2. An individual who does not have a severe impairment will not be found to be disabled.
3. A finding of disability will be made without consideration of vocational factors, if an individual is not working and is suffering from a severe impairment which meets the duration requirement and which meets or equals a listed impairment in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations.
4. An individual who can perform work that he has done in the past will not be found to be disabled.
5. If an individual cannot perform his or her past work, other factors including age, education, past work experience and residual functional capacity must be considered to determine if other work can be performed.[14]

         Further review is not necessary if it is determined that an individual is not disabled at any point in this sequential analysis.[15] Here, the sequential analysis proceeded to the fifth step for the time period related to the unfavorable portion of the decision with a finding that, although Plaintiff cannot perform his past relevant work, there are a significant number of jobs existing in the national economy that he can perform.

         Plaintiff argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's findings. He specifically argues, inter alia, that the ALJ erred in his assessment of the medical evidence. The Court finds Plaintiff's argument to be ...


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