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Reed v. Berryhill

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

January 25, 2018

AMANDA REED, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1], Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Amanda Reed brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claims for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI)[2]. The Court, having reviewed the record, will AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision as it is supported by substantial evidence.


         Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to determining whether it is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards. Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). “Substantial evidence” is defined as “more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. Courts are not to conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or make credibility determinations. Id. Rather, we are to affirm the Commissioner's decision, provided it is supported by substantial evidence, even if we might have decided the case differently. See Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999).

         The ALJ, in determining disability, conducts a five-step analysis. See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). Step One considers whether the claimant is still performing substantial gainful activity; Step Two, whether any of the claimant's impairments are “severe”; Step Three, whether the impairments meet or equal a listing in the Listing of Impairments; Step Four, whether the claimant can still perform his past relevant work; and Step Five, whether significant numbers of other jobs exist in the national economy which the claimant can perform. As to the last step, the burden of proof shifts from the claimant to the Commissioner. Id.; see also Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).


         Plaintiff filed her applications for DIB under Title II and for SSI under Title XVI on July 30, 2010 (Tr. 267-73, 274-81). She stated that she was born in 1981 and alleged that she became disabled beginning February 11, 2010 (Tr. 267). In her Disability Report, she alleged disability due to deaf in left ear, partial facial paralysis, and poor balance (Tr. 295). Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and on reconsideration and Plaintiff then requested a hearing on the matter (Tr. 156). Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Renee S. Andrews-Turner conducted a hearing, but thereafter denied Plaintiff's claim in a decision dated March 13, 2015 (Tr. 11-24). On April 6, 2016, the Appeals Council declined Plaintiff's request for review of his decision (Tr. 1-3). Thus, ALJ Andrew-Turner's decision became the final agency action for purposes of judicial review. This appeal followed and the case is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)[3].


         In her motion before the Court, Plaintiff raises several issues regarding the soundness of ALJ Andrews-Turner's decision who, after careful consideration of the entire record, found that Plaintiff had severe impairments that included headaches, lumbar peritoneal shunt status post left acoustic neuroma[4], and major depressive disorder (Tr. 14). However, the ALJ found that she did not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in or medically equal to one contained in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1 (Tr. 14). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to:

lift and/or carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently; stand or walk for 6 hours in an 8 hour workday; sit for 6 hours in an 8 hour workday; can do occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling; should avoid noisy environments, heights, and hazards; can understand remember and carry out simple instructions; only occasional interaction with the general public, coworkers and supervisors; and can adapt to infrequent change in the workplace

(Tr. 15-16).

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments would not preclude her from performing her former work as a fast food worker (Tr. 23). Consequently, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled at the fourth step in the sequential analysis process (Tr. 23).

         Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ erred because vocational expert testimony stated that with unscheduled breaks she could not work. However, this argument relies on a limitation that was not found by the ALJ. The vocational expert's response to a hypothetical question that is not based on the residual functional capacity is of no consequence.

         At the fourth step of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ determines whether or not Plaintiff can perform her past relevant work. If she can, she is not disabled. See 20 C.F.R § 404.1520 (sequential evaluation). Although a vocational expert witness is not required at the fourth step of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ in this case properly used vocational expert testimony to assist in making a decision concerning ...

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