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Dodson v. Social Security Administration

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

March 14, 2018


          Honorable Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr.


          ELIZABETH A. STAFFORD, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Mary Ann Dodson appeals a final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying her applications for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income benefits (SSI) under the Social Security Act (the Act). Dodson 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).[1] The Court finds that the administrative law judge's (ALJ) decision is supported by substantial evidence, and thus RECOMMENDS that Dodson's motion [ECF No. 15] be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Dodson's Background and Disability Applications

         Dodson filed her applications for disability benefits in July 2013, and alleged disability beginning December 31, 2012, when she was 40 years old. [Tr. 21, 191-97, 198-204]. She has a twelfth grade education and is able to communicate in English. [Tr. 34]. She has past relevant work as a production assembler. [Tr. 23]. Dodson initially alleged disability due to a broken pelvis she sustained in a car wreck. [Tr. 82].

         After a hearing, in August 2015, ALJ Todd Spangler issued an unfavorable decision. [Tr. 18-41, 44-81]. The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner, and Dodson timely filed for judicial review. [Tr. 1-7; ECF No. 1].

         B. The ALJ's Application of the Disability Framework

         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), 1382c(a)(3)(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. §§ 1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4).[2] Second, if the claimant has not had a severe impairment or a combination of such impairments for a continuous period of at least 12 months, no disability will be found.[3] [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 (RFC), 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).

         Applying this framework, the ALJ concluded that Dodson was not disabled. At the first step, the ALJ found that Dodson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. [Tr. 22]. At the second step, he found that Dodson has the severe impairments of history of left-sided pelvic fractures with minimal displacement; degenerative disc disease of the lumbosacral spine status post-January 2013 lumbar fusion; and obesity. [Tr. 24]. Next, the ALJ concluded that none of Dodson's severe impairments, either alone or in combination, met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. [Tr. 25].

         Between steps three and four, the ALJ found that Dodson had the RFC to perform light work, [4] with the following limitations: “she can lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. The claimant can climb ramps and stairs occasionally, and she can climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolding occasionally. The claimant is limited to occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling.” [Tr. 26]. At the fourth step, the ALJ found that Dodson could perform past relevant work as a production assembler, which is light, unskilled work with a specific vocational preparation (SVP) of two. [Tr. 34]. With the assistance of VE testimony, the ALJ determined at step five that, based on Dodson's age, education, work experience and RFC, she could also perform the alternative jobs of production laborer and hand packer. [Tr. 25]. As such, the ALJ concluded that Dodson had not been under a disability from December 31, 2012, through the date of his decision. [Tr. 25].

         II. ...

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