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Hinkle v. Berryhill

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

May 30, 2018

SHONNA HINKLE
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          CLIFTON L. CORKER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the United States Magistrate Judge with the consent of the parties and by order of reference [Doc. 16] for disposition and entry of a final judgment. Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI, of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, 1381-1385, was denied after a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). This action is for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision per 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Each party filed a dispositive motion [Docs. 21 & 24] with a supporting memorandum [Docs. 22 & 25]. The matter is now ripe for review.

         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. Sec. 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. Fed. Maritime Comm'n, 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. Sec. 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 1975, a younger person under the guidelines, at the time she alleged disability (Doc. 13, Transcript p. 30) (reference to “Tr” and the page denote the administrative record). In a Disability Report, she alleged she was disabled from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, panic disorder, memory loss, muscle weakness, pain, tremors, autoimmune disorder, high blood pressure, migraines, intermittent irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and extreme fatigue (Tr. 222). Plaintiff has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (Tr. 30). Plaintiff reported that she worked as a LPN from 2000 to 2011, but was fired due to poor job performance (Tr. 41, ...


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