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Vaughn v. Berryhill

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

January 11, 2018

JOHNNY RAY VAUGHN, Plaintiff
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

          The Honorable Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr. Judge.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Lanny King, Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff filed a Complaint seeking judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the final decision of the Commissioner denying his claim for Social Security disability benefits. Docket 1. The Commissioner filed an electronic copy of the administrative record. Docket 12. Plaintiff filed his Motion for Judgment on the Record, along with a supporting Memorandum of Law. Dockets 15 and 16. The Commissioner responded in opposition to Plaintiff's motion. Docket 17. The matter is ripe for determination.

         On December 6, 2017, the Court referred the matter to the undersigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 631 and 636 and Administrative Order No. 24. Section 631 authorizes designation of magistrate judges to serve in districts adjoining the district for which they were appointed. 28 U.S.C. § 631. Administrative Order No. 24 was entered on June 12, 2017, and signed by the Chief Judges for the Middle District of Tennessee and the Western District of Kentucky. Section 636 authorizes magistrate judges to submit reports and recommendations to district judges on any case- dispositive matter. 28 U.S.C. § 636.

         The Court finds the administrative law judge's (ALJ's) decision was supported by substantial evidence and was in accord with applicable legal standards; therefore, the RECOMMENDATION will be that the Court DENY Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Record (Docket 15); AFFIRM the Commissioner's final decision; and DISMISS Plaintiff's complaint.

         The ALJ findings

         On February 2, 2014, Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits (DIB) pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits pursuant to Title XVI alleging disability beginning on September 4, 2012, when he stopped working. In May 2016, the ALJ issued a partially-favorable decision, finding that Plaintiff became disabled on March 8, 2013, when he was hospitalized for congestive heart failure. ALJ's decision, Administrative Record (AR), Docket 12, pp. 20-30. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff is entitled to DIB because he remained insured for DIB through the date of her decision. AR, p. 22. The ALJ informed Plaintiff that another branch of the Administration would advise him as to whether he satisfies the non-disability requirements for receipt of SSI benefits. AR, p. 30.

         The ALJ found that, as of March 8, 2013, Plaintiff was restricted to sedentary work and, therefore, disabled at the fifth and final step of the sequential evaluation process based on a direct application of Rule 201.14[1] of the Appendix 2 of the regulations. AR, p. 30.

         The ALJ found that, prior to March 8, 2013, Plaintiff was not disabled at the second step of the evaluation process. Specifically, the ALJ found that, although Plaintiff suffered from a medically- determinable impairment consisting of a “remote history of lumbar degenerative disc disease with radiculopathy, ” the impairment was not “severe, ” or vocationally significant, and did not satisfy the 12- month durational requirement.[2] AR, p. 23.

         Plaintiff's challenge to the ALJ's decision

         Plaintiff's position is that the ALJ erred in finding him disabled as of March 8, 2013, rather than accepting his alleged onset of disability date of September 4, 2012.[3] He offers the following specific arguments in support of his position:

1. The ALJ erred as a matter of law when she found that Plaintiff had no “severe” impairments prior to his disability onset date of March 8, 2013. Given the chronic nature of several of Plaintiff's medical impairments, the ALJ should have consulted a medical expert to address whether an earlier onset date was appropriate.
2. The ALJ's reliance on Plaintiff's receipt of unemployment benefits as a basis to find that he was not “disabled” prior to March 8, 2013 was unwarranted.
3. The ALJ neglected to consider Plaintiff's stellar work history in her credibility assessment.

(Docket 16, p. 4).

         Substantial evidence supported the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff had no “severe” impairment satisfying the durational requirement prior to March 8, 2013.

         As indicated above, the ALJ found that, prior to March 8, 2013, Plaintiff suffered from no medically-determinable impairment that was “severe” and ...


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