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Sampson v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 12, 2018

DANNY RAY SAMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ALETA A. TRAUGER MAGISTRATE Judge.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. 12)

          PATRICIA T. MORRIS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. REPORT

         A. Introduction and Procedural History

         This is an action for judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Danny Ray Sampson's claim for Supplemental Security Income benefits (“SSI”) under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. (Tr. 129-34). Pursuant to Administrative Order No. 24, entered on January 13, 2018, and 28 U.S.C. § 636, subsections (a), (b), and (c), this case has been assigned to the undersigned Magistrate Judge. The matter is currently before the court on Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 12).

         Plaintiff was born on December 30, 1969, making him 42 years old on his alleged disability onset date of November 18, 2012. (Doc. 13 at ¶ 448). He filed his application for SSI on November 19, 2012. (Tr. 10). His application was denied on February 25, 2013. (Tr. 78-80). On March 12, 2013, Plaintiff filed a request for reconsideration, (Tr. 85-86), and on June 5, 2013, the Commissioner confirmed that the previous denial of his claim was proper under the law. (Tr. 88-89). Plaintiff filed a timely Request for Hearing on June 27, 2013. (Tr. 92). The hearing was held on November 16, 2014, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Alfred M. Smith, Jr.; Vocational Expert (“VE”) Charles Wheeler and Plaintiff both testified at the hearing. (Tr. 23-50). On January 20, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 7-22). Plaintiff submitted a request for review to the Appeals Council, (Tr. 84-87), which the Appeals Council denied on June 15, 2016. (Tr. 1-6). This action followed.

         B. Standard of Review

         The district court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The district court's review is restricted to determining whether the “Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standard or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.” Sullivan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 595 Fed.Appx. 502, 506 (6th Cir. 2014) (internal citations omitted). 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.” Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007) (internal quotations omitted).

         The court must examine the administrative record as a whole, and may consider any evidence in the record, regardless of whether it has been cited by the ALJ. See Walker v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 884 F.2d 241, 245 (6th Cir. 1989). The court will not “try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of credibility.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, “it must be affirmed even if the reviewing court would decide the matter differently and even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion.” Id. (internal citations omitted).

         C. Framework for Disability Determinations

         Under the Act, “DIB and SSI are available only for those who have a ‘disability.'” Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). “Disability” means 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), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (DIB); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a) (SSI). The Commissioner's regulations provide that disability is to be determined through the application of a five-step sequential analysis:

(i) At the first step, we consider your work activity, if any. If you are doing substantial gainful activity, we will find that you are not disabled. . . .
(ii) At the second step, we consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you do not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment that meets the duration requirement . . . or a combination of impairments that is severe and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are not disabled. . . .
(iii) At the third step, we also consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you have an impairment(s) that meets or equals one of our listings in appendix 1 of this subpart and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are disabled. . . .
(iv) At the fourth step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your past relevant work. If you can still do your past relevant work, we will find that you are not disabled. . . .
(v) At the fifth and last step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity [“RFC”] and your age, education, and work experience to see if you can make an adjustment to other work. If you can make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are not disabled. If you cannot make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are disabled.

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. See also Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001). “Through step four, the claimant bears the burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations caused by [his or] her impairments and the fact that [he or] she is precluded from performing [his or] her past relevant work.” Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). A claimant must establish a medically determinable physical or mental impairment (expected to last at least twelve months or result in death) that rendered him unable to engage in substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The burden transfers to the Commissioner if the analysis reaches the fifth step without a finding that the claimant is not disabled. Combs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 643 (6th Cir. 2006). At the fifth step, the Commissioner is required to show that “other jobs in significant numbers exist in the national economy that [the claimant] could perform given [his or] her RFC and considering relevant vocational factors.” Rogers, 486 F.3d at 241 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v), (g)).

         D. ALJ Findings

         Following the five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a disability since he filed his application on November 19, 2012. (Tr. 7- 22). At Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his application date. (Tr. 12). At Step Two, he found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: loss of visual acuity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, and degenerative disc disease. (Id.). At Step Three, he concluded Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. (Tr. 13). Next, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to

perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(c) that is limited to lifting and carrying fifty pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently; standing and walking for six hours in an eight-hour workday; sitting for six hours in an eight-hour workday; no work requiring good far visual acuity or depth perception; and no more than frequent exposure to pulmonary irritants, moving mechanical parts, or high exposed places.

(Tr. 13).

         Because the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing past relevant work as an assembler, he ended his analysis at Step Four. (Tr. 18).

         E. Administrative Record

         1. Medical Evidence

         The court has thoroughly reviewed Plaintiff's medical record. In lieu of summarizing his medical history here, the court will make reference and provide citations to the record as necessary in its discussion of the parties' arguments.

         2. Application Reports and Administrative Hearing

         a. ...


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