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Hughes v. Berryhill

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

January 22, 2018

MARCY DARNELL HUGHES, 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 application under Social Security Act, Title II (the “Act”) was 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 and Defendant filed Motions for Summary Judgment [Docs. 19, 24]. Plaintiff filed a response [Doc. 26].

         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

         Marcy Darnell Hughes (“Hughes”) was a younger person at the time of her application. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563. She alleged an onset date of July 22, 2011, as amended at the hearing, and had insured status through March 31, 2014. (Doc. 14, Transcript pp. 11, 35) (reference to “Tr” and the page denote the record). She alleged several impairments she believed to be disabling.

         Hughes' claims were initially denied in April 2014 and upon reconsideration in July 2014. (Tr. 11). An ALJ conducted a hearing on October 6, 2015. Hughes and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. (Tr. 32-54). The ALJ followed the five-step analysis in evaluating the claims. The ALJ found Hughes had severe medical impairments. (Tr. 11). However, the ALJ ultimately made the dispositive finding that she was not disabled. The findings were:

1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2014;
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of July 22, 2011 through her date last insured of March ...

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