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Power v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

January 25, 2018

ANTHONY EUGENE POWER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          SUSAN K. LEE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Anthony Eugene Power (“Plaintiff”) brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denying him disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). Each party has moved for judgment [Docs. 16 & 18] and filed supporting briefs [Docs. 17 & 19]. This matter is now ripe. For the reasons stated below, (1) Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment [Doc. 16] will be DENIED; (2) the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment [Doc. 18] will be GRANTED; and the decision of the Commissioner will be AFFIRMED.

         I. ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         Plaintiff filed his applications for DIB and SSI on November 19, 2012 [Doc. 10 (“Tr.”) at Page ID # 70], alleging disability beginning September 19, 2011 (Tr. 280-92). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration at the agency level. After a hearing was held on June 3, 2015, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found on July 28, 2015, that Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act (Tr. 17-44). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner (Tr. 1-6). Plaintiff timely filed the instant action [Doc. 1].

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. Education and Employment Background

         Plaintiff was born November 23, 1980, which made him a “younger individual, ” on the alleged onset date (Tr. 37, 280). Plaintiff has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (Tr. 37). Plaintiff's past relevant work-cashier and sales representative of toys and games-was all performed at the light exertional level, with specific vocational preparation levels ranging from three to five (Tr. 36-37).

         B. Medical Records

         In his Disability Report, Plaintiff alleged disability due to severe depression and partial paralysis on his left side (Tr. 308). Plaintiff [Doc. 17 at Page ID # 880-85] and the ALJ (Tr. 27-30) each set forth a detailed, factual recitation with regard to Plaintiff's medical record, vocational record, and the hearing testimony. Defendant generally adopts the statement of facts set forth by the ALJ, but includes extensive citation to the record throughout her argument [Doc. 19 at Page ID # 906, 908-25]. While there is no need to summarize the medical records herein, the relevant records have been reviewed.

         C. Hearing Testimony

         A hearing occurred on June 3, 2015, at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified (Tr. 45-81). The Court has carefully reviewed the transcript of the testimony.

         III. ELIGIBILITY AND THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         A. Eligibility

         “The Social Security Act defines a disability as the ‘inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.'” Schmiedebusch v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 536 Fed.Appx. 637, 646 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)); see also Parks v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 413 Fed.Appx. 856, 862 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). A claimant is disabled “only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work, but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.” Parks, 413 Fed.Appx. at 862 (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)). The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) determines eligibility for disability benefits by following a five-step process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The five-step process provides:

1) If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, the claimant is not disabled.
2) If the claimant does not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment-i.e., an impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities-the claimant is not disabled.
3) If the claimant has a severe impairment(s) that meets or equals one of the listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations and meets the duration requirement, the claimant is disabled.
4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him or her from doing his or her past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled.
5) If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is not disabled.

Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 652 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). The claimant bears the burden to show the extent of his impairments, but at step five, the Commissioner bears the burden to show that, notwithstanding those impairments, there are jobs the claimant is capable of performing. See Ealy v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 594 F.3d 504, 512-13 (6th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted).

         B. The ALJ's Findings

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements through March 31, 2016 (Tr. 22). At step one of the sequential process, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date, September 19, 2011 (Tr. 22). At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: obesity, partial paralysis of the left arm and leg status-post cerebral vascular accident at birth, schizoaffective disorder, episodic mood disorder not otherwise specified, bipolar II disorder, and cannabis abuse unspecified (Tr. 22). At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Tr. 23).

         Next, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform:

light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) involving lifting/carrying twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently with his dominant right upper extremity and his non-dominant left upper extremity can be used as an assist. In an eight-hour day, the claimant can sit for six hours, and he can stand and/or walk for four hours. He can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but he can occasionally climb ramps, climb stairs, stoop, crouch, kneel, balance, and crawl. He can occasionally push or pull with his left lower extremity and left upper extremity, which is the non-dominant upper extremity. He can occasionally reach with his left upper extremity. He can occasionally handle and frequently finger with his left upper extremity. He must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards. He can perform simple, routine, and repetitive tasks in a low stress job, which is defined as having only occasional changes in the work setting and only occasional decision making required. He can have occasional interaction with supervisors and co-workers.

         (Tr. 26). At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work (Tr. 36-37). At step five, however, the ALJ found Plaintiff was able to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy (Tr. 37-39). These findings led to the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Act from the alleged onset date through the date of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 39).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff asserts this matter should be reversed and/or remanded under sentence four for several reasons: (1) the “physical [RFC] as established by the [ALJ] is not supported by substantial evidence, ” (2) the ALJ's decision that Plaintiff “does not meet Listing of Impairment 12.04 is not supported by substantial evidence and [is] clearly erroneous, ” (3) the “hypothetical questions posed to the [VE] did not accurately portray [Plaintiff's] physical and mental impairments and requires a remand, ” (4) the ALJ “failed to develop the record with regard to [Plaintiff's] personality disorder and the effect of the personality disorder” on Plaintiff's RFC, and (5) the ALJ “made conclusions th[a]t could only have been made by a medical expert thereby depriving [Plaintiff] of his due process rights.” [Doc. 17 at Page ID # 886, 889, 893, 896, 898]. As the Commissioner does in her brief, the Court will address Plaintiff's arguments in the order in which they arise in the sequential process, rather than in the order presented by Plaintiff. Therefore, the Court will first address the issue of whether the ALJ “failed to develop the record” with regard to Plaintiff's personality disorder (Plaintiff's fourth issue). Next, the Court will address Plaintiff's arguments concerning Listing 12.04 (Plaintiff's second issue). The Court will then address ...


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