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Smith v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

January 10, 2018

BETTY A. SMITH, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Betty A. Smith filed this action to obtain judicial review of Defendant Commissioner's final decision denying her 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 July 29, 2015. On August 19, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. 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 and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Blakley v. Comm'r Of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 405 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997)). 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.” Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007)

         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. See Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007) (“When deciding under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, we do not try the case de novo, resolve conflicts in evidence, or decide questions of credibility.”). When substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's determination, it is conclusive, even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion. See Rogers, 486 F.3d at 241 (stating that it is not necessary that the Court agree with the Commissioner as long as the decision is substantially supported by the record).

         Plaintiff was born on March 4, 1966. She has a high school education and past relevant work as an assembler and clerk. She alleges disability due to poor circulation, varicose veins, overall body pain, arthritis, depression, and a learning disability. Her amended onset date is November 10, 2011.

         The ALJ made the following findings: (1) Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements on March 31, 2012; (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: venous varicosities, status post stripping, rheumatoid arthritis, math disorder, reading disorder, and obesity; but she does not have impairments, either alone or in combination, that meet or equal the requirements of any listed impairment contained in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 of the listing of impairments; (5) on the date last insured, Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work except that she could lift and carry up to ten pounds occasionally and push and pull up to ten pounds occasionally; she could stand or walk up to two out of eight hours and sit up to six of eight hours with normal breaks; she needed a sit/stand option every hour; she could occasionally climb stairs or ramps but never climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; she could occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; she could occasionally perform overhead work and use foot controls; there could be no written instructions, no complex verbal instructions, and no work requiring math skills; her work was limited to simple, routine work, involving simple, work-related decisions with few, if any, workplace changes; she had no social deficits; (6) Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work; (7) on the date last insured, Plaintiff was a younger individual with a high school education;[1] (8) transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules (“the Grids”) as a framework supports a finding that Plaintiff is not disabled whether or not she 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. 23 - 34.

         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 Oliver v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 415 F. App'x 681, 682 (6th Cir. 2011) (citing Wyatt v. Sec'y Health & Human Servs., 974 F.2d 680, 683 (6th Cir. 1992)). 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 claimant bears the burden of proof during the first four steps, but the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five.”)

         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 or she 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.

See Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001) (describing the five-step sequential process for ...

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