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Cline v. Berryhill

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

February 1, 2018

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


          C. Clifford Shirley, Jr., United States Magistrate Judge

         This case is before the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the consent of the parties [Doc. 18]. Now before the Court is the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 23 & 24] and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 27 & 28]. Francis Cline (“the Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”), the final decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”). For the reasons that follow, the Court will GRANT IN PART AND DENY IN PART the Plaintiff's motion and GRANT IN PART AND DENY IN PART the Commissioner's motion.


         On October 22, 2012, the Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-403, claiming a period of disability that began on June 1, 2011. [Tr. 1184-87]. After her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, the Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. [Tr. 140-41]. A hearing was held on October 28, 2014. [Tr. 40-92]. On March 16, 2015, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not disabled. [Tr. 22-32]. The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review [Tr. 1-6], making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted her administrative remedies, the Plaintiff filed a Complaint with this Court on August 12, 2016, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision under Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act. [Doc. 1]. The parties have filed competing dispositive motions, and this matter is now ripe for adjudication.


         The ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2015.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2011, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: obesity; status post gastric bypass surgery; asthma; seizure disorder; migraine headaches; depressive disorder; anxiety disorder; and alcohol dependence in sustain remission (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c). The claimant can frequently perform all postural activities. She can understand and remember simple, and one-to-three step instructions. She has the ability to maintain concentration, persistence, and pace for two-hour periods for those tasks. She can interact appropriately with peers and supervisors and can adapt to routine workplace changes.
6. The claimant is capable of performing all past relevant work. This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity. (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from June 1, 2011, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(f)).

[Tr. 24-32].


         When reviewing the Commissioner's determination of whether an individual is disabled pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court is limited to determining whether the ALJ's decision was reached through application of the correct legal standards and in accordance with the procedure mandated by the regulations and rulings promulgated by the Commissioner, and whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 405 (6th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted); Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004).

         Substantial evidence is “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.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). It is immaterial whether the record may also possess substantial evidence to support a different conclusion from that reached by the ALJ, or whether the reviewing judge may have decided the case differently. Crisp v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 790 F.2d 450, 453 n.4 (6th Cir. 1986). The substantial evidence standard is intended to create a “‘zone of choice' within which the Commissioner can act, without the fear of court interference.” Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 773 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986)). Therefore, the Court will not “try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of credibility.” Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984) (citation omitted).

         On review, the plaintiff “bears the burden of proving his entitlement to benefits.” Boyes v. Sec'y. of Health & Human Servs., 46 F.3d 510, 512 (6th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         “Disability” is 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). A claimant will only be considered disabled 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, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.

42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a).

         Disability is evaluated pursuant to a five-step analysis summarized as follows:

1. If claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled.
2. If claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity, his impairment must be severe before he can be found to be disabled.
3. If claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity and is suffering from a severe impairment that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and his impairment meets or equals a listed ...

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