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Labit v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

January 25, 2018

NICHOLAS LABIT, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          SUSAN K. LEE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Nicholas Labit (“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 supplemental security income (“SSI”). Each party has moved for judgment [Docs. 17 & 21] and filed supporting briefs [Docs. 18 & 22]. Plaintiff also filed a reply in support of his motion [Doc. 23]. This matter is now ripe. For the reasons stated below, (1) Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings [Doc. 17] will be DENIED; (2) the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment [Doc. 21] will be GRANTED; and the decision of the Commissioner will be AFFIRMED.

         I. ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         Plaintiff filed his application for SSI on August 17, 2013 [Doc. 11 (“Tr.”) at Page ID # 66], alleging disability beginning April 19, 2011 (Tr. 10, 133). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration at the agency level. After a hearing was held on September 17, 2015, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found on November 20, 2015, that Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act (Tr. 7-21). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner (Tr. 1-5). Plaintiff timely filed the instant action [Doc. 1].

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. Education and Employment Background

         Plaintiff was born June 26, 1988, which made him a “younger individual, ” on the date the application was filed (Tr. 19, 133). Plaintiff has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (Tr. 20). Plaintiff's past relevant work history ranged from light to medium and from unskilled to semi-skilled, and includes hotel guest clerk and inspector (Tr. 19).

         B. Medical Records

         In his Disability Report, Plaintiff alleged disability due to degenerative disc disease in the lower back, bulging discs compressing spinal cord in the mid-thoracic region, chronic thigh pain in left leg, nerve damage in lower left leg, severe anxiety disorder, and depression (Tr. 149). Plaintiff [Doc. 18 at Page ID # 729-32] and the ALJ (Tr. 13-18) each set forth a detailed factual recitation with regard to Plaintiff's medical record and the hearing testimony. Defendant states that she adopts the statement of facts set forth by the ALJ [Doc. 22 at Page ID # 746], but she also includes extensive citation to the record throughout her argument [id. at Page ID # 750-66]. While there is no need to summarize the medical records herein, the relevant records have been reviewed.

         C. Hearing Testimony

         A hearing occurred on September 17, 2015, at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. The transcript of the testimony at the hearing (Tr. 27-43) has been carefully reviewed.

         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

         At step one of the sequential process, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date, August 17, 2013[1] (Tr. 12). At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had one severe impairment, degenerative disc disease (Tr. 12). 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. 14).

         Next, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b), with some further restrictions, as follows:

The claimant can occasionally lift/carry 20 pounds and frequently lift/carry 10 pounds. The claimant can stand/walk for a total of four hours in an eight-hour workday and sit for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday. The claimant can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. The claimant can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.

(Tr. 14). At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work (Tr. 19). At step five, however, the ALJ found there were jobs available to Plaintiff in the national economy, such as assembly jobs and hand packager jobs (Tr. 20). These findings led to the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Act from the date the application was filed through the date of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 21).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff asserts that this matter should be reversed and/or remanded under sentence four for several reasons: (1) “Based upon the medical record, specifically the findings by [Plaintiff's] treating physician, Dr. Ball, [Plaintiff] meets the requirements of Listing 12.07, and is therefore disabled as a matter of law”; (2) the “ALJ erred by failing to undertake a specific evaluation of Listing 12.07”; (3) the “ALJ improperly failed to accord controlling weight to the opinion of [Plaintiff's] treating physician, Dr. Ball”; and ...


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