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Brewer v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville Division

December 8, 2017

SHELBY JUANITA BREWER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          CLIFTON L. CORKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the United States Magistrate Judge under the standing orders of the Court and 28 U.S.C. § 636 for a report and recommendation. Plaintiff's Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income applications under Social Security Act, Titles II and XVI (the “Act”) were denied after a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). This action is for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision per 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. 13]. Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 15] to which Plaintiff filed a response [Doc. 17].[1]

         I. APPLICABLE LAW - STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A review of the Commissioner's findings is narrow. The Court is confined to determining (1) whether substantial evidence supported the factual findings of the ALJ and (2) whether the Commissioner conformed with the relevant legal standards. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see Brainard v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989). “Substantial evidence” is evidence that is more than a mere scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the challenged conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). It must be enough to justify, if the trial were to a jury, a refusal to direct a verdict when the conclusion sought to be drawn is one of fact. LeMaster v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 802 F.2d 839, 841 (6th Cir. 1986). A Court may not try the case de novo, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or decide questions of credibility. Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). Even if the Court were to resolve factual issues differently, the Commissioner's decision must stand if substantial evidence supports it. Listenbee v. Sec'y of Health & Human Services, 846 F.2d 345, 349 (6th Cir. 1988). But, a decision supported by substantial evidence “will not be upheld where the [Social Security Administration] fails to follow its own regulations and where that error prejudices a claimant on the merits or deprives the claimant of a substantial right.” Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 746 (6th Cir. 2007). The Court may consider any evidence in the record regardless of whether it has been cited by the ALJ. Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d. 528, 535 (6th Cir. 2001).

         A claimant must be under a “disability” as defined by the Act to be eligible for benefits. “Disability” includes physical and mental impairments that are “medically determinable” and so severe as to prevent the claimant from (1) performing her past job and (2) engaging in “substantial gainful activity” that is available in the regional or national economies. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a).

         A five-step sequential evaluation applies in disability determinations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 & 416.920. Review ends with a dispositive finding at any step. See Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). The complete review poses five questions:

1. Has the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity?
2. Does the claimant suffer from one or more severe impairments?
3. Do the claimant's severe impairments, alone or in combination, meet or equal the criteria of an impairment set forth in the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments (the “Listings”), 20 C.F.R. Subpart P, Appendix 1?
4. Considering the claimant's [Residual Functional Capacity], can he or she perform his or her past relevant work?
5. Assuming the claimant can no longer perform his or her past relevant work -- and also considering the claimant's age, education, past work experience, and RFC -- do significant numbers of other jobs exist in the national economy which the claimant can perform?

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4) & 416.920(a)(4).

         The claimant has the burden to establish an entitlement to benefits by proving the existence of a disability under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). See Boyes v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 46 F.3d 510, 512 (6th Cir. 1994). The Commissioner has the burden to establish the claimant's ability to work at step five. Moon v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 1175, 1181 (6th Cir. 1990).

         II. RELEVANT FACTS AND PROCEDURAL OVERVIEW

         A. Procedural History

         Shelby Juanita Brewer (“Brewer”) was a younger person at the time of her applications. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563 & 416.963. She alleged an onset date of August 5, 2009, and had insured status through December 31, 2014. (Doc. 9, Transcript pp. 18, 20) (reference to “Tr” and the page denote the administrative record). She alleged several impairments she believed to be disabling.

         Brewer's claims were initially denied in April 2014 and upon reconsideration in August 2014. (Tr. 18). An ALJ conducted a hearing on January 5, 2016. Brewer and a vocational expert testified. (Tr. 39-57). The ALJ followed the five-step analysis in evaluating the claims. The ALJ found Brewer had severe medical impairments, including osteoporosis, curvature of the spine, medullary sponge kidney, degenerative disc disease, and history of syncope. (Tr. 20). However, the ALJ ultimately made the dispositive finding that she was not disabled. The findings were:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2014;
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 5, 2009, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq. and 416.971 et seq.);
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: osteoporosis, curvature of the spine, medullary sponge kidney, and history of syncope (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c));
4. 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 404.1520(d), ...

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