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Britton v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville Division

March 29, 2018



          Clifton L. Corker, United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the United States Magistrate Judge, with the consent of the parties and an order of reference under 28 U.S.C. § 636 [Doc. 15], for decision and entry of judgment. Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits was administratively denied following a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge [“ALJ”]. This is an action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision, per 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Each party filed a dispositive motion [Docs. 16 and 18] with a supporting memorandum [Docs. 17 and 19].

         I. Standard of Review

         The sole function of this Court in making this review is to determine whether the findings of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence in the record. McCormick v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 861 F.2d 998, 1001 (6th Cir. 1988). “Substantial evidence” is defined as evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the challenged conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971). It must be enough to justify, if the trial were to a jury, a refusal to direct a verdict when the conclusion sought to be drawn is one of fact for the jury. Consolo v. Federal Maritime Commission, 383 U.S. 607 (1966). The Court may not try the case de novo nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of credibility. Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). Even if the reviewing court were to resolve the factual issues differently, the Commissioner's decision must stand if supported by substantial evidence. Listenbee v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 345, 349 (6th Cir. 1988). Yet, even if supported by substantial evidence, “a decision of the Commissioner will not be upheld where the SSA fails to follow its own regulations and where that error prejudices a claimant on the merits or deprives the claimant of a substantial right.” Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 746 (6th Cir. 2007).

         II. Sequential Evaluation Process

         The applicable administrative regulations require the Commissioner to utilize a five-step sequential evaluation process for disability determinations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). Although a dispositive finding at any step ends the ALJ's review, see Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007), the complete sequential review poses five questions:

1. Is the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity?
2. Does the claimant suffer from one or more severe impairments?
3. Do the claimant's severe impairments, alone or in combination, meet or equal the criteria of an impairment set forth in the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments (the “Listings”), 20 C.F.R. Subpart P, Appendix 1?
4. Considering the claimant's RFC, can he or she perform his or her past relevant work?
5. Assuming the claimant can no longer perform his or her past relevant work -- and also considering the claimant's age, education, past work experience, and RFC -- do significant numbers of other jobs exist in the national economy which the claimant can perform?

20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). A claimant bears the ultimate burden of establishing disability under the Social Security Act's definition. Key v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 109 F.3d 270, 274 (6th Cir. 1997). The burden shifts to the Commissioner with respect to the fifth step if the claimant satisfies the first four steps of the process. See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003).

         III. Background and Procedural History

         Plaintiff was born in 1991 and was a younger person under the applicable regulations at the time he filed his application (Tr. 26). Plaintiff's prior relevant work experience includes fast food cook (DOT 313.374-010, light, unskilled), fast food worker (DOT 311.472-010, light, unskilled), diesel mechanic (DOT 625.281-010, heavy, skilled), fork lift operator (DOT 921.683-050, medium, semi-skilled), and patient care attendant (DOT 354.377-014, medium, semi-skilled) (Tr. 16-17). He alleges that he became disabled on September 9, 2013, due to epilepsy and possible grand mal seizures (Tr. 27). He met the insured status requirement through June 30, 2017 (Tr. 12). Accordingly, he must establish disability on or before that date in order to be entitled to benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.130.

         In July 2015, an ALJ conducted an evidentiary hearing at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. The ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act and denied benefits. The appeals council ...

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