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Reeves v. Berryhill

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

March 5, 2018


          Honorable Aleta A. Trauger Judge


          ELIZABETH A. STAFFORD United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Robert Reeves appeals the final decision of defendant Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner), which denied his application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) under the Social Security Act. He has filed a motion for judgment on the administrative record, the Commissioner has responded, and the matter has been referred to this Court for a report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). After review of the record, the Court finds that the administrative law judge's (ALJ) decision did not adequately account for Reeves's moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace and thus RECOMMENDS that:

. Reeves's motion [ECF No. 16] be GRANTED; and,
. the matter be REMANDED pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further consideration consistent with this report and recommendation.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Reeves's Background and Disability Application

         Born November 29, 1988, Reeves was 21 years old on his alleged onset date of August 30, 2010. [Tr. 14, 26]. Reeves is a high school graduate with past work experience as a packing machine operator, soldering production line worker, and kitchen helper/bus boy. [Tr. 26]. Reeves alleged disability due to a back injury suffered on August 30, 2010, and depression arising from the pain and limitations from that injury. [ECF No. 16, PageID 632-33].

         After a hearing on August 6, 2014, during which Reeves and a vocational expert (VE) testified, the ALJ found that Reeves was not disabled. [Tr. 14-27, 32-66]. The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. [Tr. 1-4]. Reeves timely filed for judicial review. [ECF No. 1].

         B. The ALJ's Application of the Disability Framework Analysis

         A “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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         The Commissioner determines whether an applicant is disabled by analyzing five sequential steps. First, if the applicant is “doing substantial gainful activity, ” he or she will be found not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). Second, if the claimant has not had a severe impairment or a combination of such impairments[1] for a continuous period of at least 12 months, no disability will be found. Id. Third, if the claimant's severe impairments meet or equal the criteria of an impairment set forth in the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments, the claimant will be found disabled. Id. If the fourth step is reached, the Commissioner considers its assessment of the claimant's residual functional capacity, and will find the claimant not disabled if he or she can still do past relevant work. Id. At the final step, the Commissioner reviews the claimant's RFC, age, education and work experiences, and determines whether the claimant could adjust to other work. Id. The claimant bears the burden of proof throughout the first four steps, but the burden shifts to the Commissioner if the fifth step is reached. Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994). To meet this burden, the Commissioner must make a finding supported by substantial evidence that the claimant has the vocational qualifications to perform specific jobs. Varley v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 820 F.2d 777, 779 (6th Cir. 1987).

         Applying this framework, the ALJ concluded that Reeves was not disabled. At the first step, she found that Reeves had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. [Tr. 16]. At the second step, she found that Reeves had the severe impairments of “lumbar spine degenerative disc disease, adjustment disorder, and major depressive disorder.” [Id.]. Next, the ALJ concluded that none of his impairments, either alone or in combination, met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. [Tr. 17-18].

         Between the third and fourth steps, the ALJ found that Reeves had the RFC to ...

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