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Lance v. Berryhill

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

March 6, 2018

SALLY LANCE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         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. 20]. Now before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 21 & 22] and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 23 & 24]. Sally Lance (“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 DENY Plaintiff's motion and GRANT the Commissioner's motion.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On February 8, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income benefits pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et. seq., claiming a period of disability that began on that same date. [Tr. 13, 37-38, 187-94]. After her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. [Tr. 102-05]. A hearing was held on March 24, 2015. [Tr. 34-55]. On April 16, 2015, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. [Tr. 13-28]. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review [Tr.1-3], making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed a Complaint with this Court on August 25, 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.

         II. ALJ FINDINGS

         The ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 8, 2013, the application date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [(“COPD”)]; osteopenia, restless legs syndrome; orthostatic hypotension; depression (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
3. 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 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except that she can occasionally climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally crouch, kneel, and crawl. She should avoid concentrated exposure to wetness or humidity, as well as fumes, odors, dust, and gases. The claimant is limited to work involving simple, routine, repetitive tasks, in which she should be allowed to be off-task 5 percent of the workday, in addition to normal breaks. She is limited to low-stress work, which is defined as having only occasional decision-making required and only occasional changes in the work setting. The claimant should have only occasional interaction with the public and co-workers.
5. The claimant has no past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).
6. The claimant was born on May 26, 1962 and was 50 years old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age, on the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.963).
7. The claimant has limited education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).
8. Transferability of job skills is not an issue because the claimant does not have past relevant work (20 CFR 416.968).
9. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 416.969 and 416.969(a)).
10. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since February 8, 2013, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 404.1520(f) and 416.920(f)).

[Tr. 15-28].

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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. ...


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