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Whited v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

January 3, 2018

DANNY WHITED, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Danny Whited filed this action to obtain judicial review of Defendant Commissioner's final decision denying his application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”). Plaintiff's application was 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 March 27, 2009. On July 31, 2009, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. The Appeals Council subsequently denied his request for review. Plaintiff appealed the decision to this Court in Whited v. Commissioner, 1:11-cv-1021-JDT (W.D. Tenn. February 22, 2012). The Court reversed the decision of the Commissioner and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for reconsideration of the opinion of the treating physician, Howard W. Thomas, M.D., under the factors set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2).

         Another ALJ conducted the second hearing on April 8, 2013, and issued an unfavorable opinion on June 20, 2013. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the Commissioner's final decision, and Plaintiff filed an appeal in this Court. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.

         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.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court's review is limited to determining whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision, id. and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997). See also Landsaw v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs, 803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th Cir. 1986).

         Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971)). It is “more than a mere scintilla of evidence, but less than a preponderance.” Bell v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 105 F.3d 244, 245 (6th Cir. 1996) (citing Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). 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. Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997); Crum v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 642, 644 (6th Cir. 1990); Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). When substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's determination, it is conclusive, even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion. See Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004).

         Plaintiff was born on April 16, 1953. He was fifty-two years old on his date last insured. He has a G.E.D. Plaintiff alleges disability beginning December 1, 2005, due to diabetes mellitus, lumbar degenerative disc/joint disease, gout, hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure, visual problems, and obesity. He last worked at a mechanic shop.

         The ALJ made the following findings: (1) Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements on December 31, 2005; (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: lumbar degenerative disc disease, diabetes mellitus, and obesity; (4) through the date last insured, 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) through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of light work; (6) through the date last insured, Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work; (7) on the date last insured, Plaintiff was an individual closely approaching advance age with a high school education; (8) transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that Plaintiff was not disabled whether or not he had transferable skills; (9) through the date last insured, 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) Plaintiff was not under a disability within the meaning of the Act at any time from the alleged onset date through the date last insured. R. 308 - 15.

         The Social Security Act defines disability as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of establishing an entitlement to benefits. See Born v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs, 923 F.2d 1168, 1173 (6th Cir. 1990). 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. Id.

         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 ...

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