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Laster v. Berryhill

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

March 9, 2018

ROY DOUGLAS LASTER, 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. 14]. Now before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Judgement on the Pleadings and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 15 & 16] and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 17 & 18]. Roy Douglas Laster (“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 December 20, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., claiming a period of disability that began November 1, 2012, the amended onset date. [Tr. 112-13, 37]. After his application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. [Tr. 77]. A hearing was held on September 28, 2015. [Tr. 34-46]. On October 8, 2015, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. [Tr. 22-29]. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review [Tr. 2-4], making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted his administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed a Complaint with this Court on November 28, 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 meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2016.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 1, 2012, the amended alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following medically determinable impairments: diabetes mellitus, hypertension, osteoarthritis, and obesity (20 CFR 404.1521 et seq.).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that has significantly limited (or is expected to significantly limit) the ability to perform basic work-related activities for 12 consecutive months; therefore, the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments. (20 CFR 404.1521 et seq.).
5. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from November 1, 2012, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).

[Tr. 24-29].

         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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