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Dyer v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

May 31, 2018

WILLIAM A. DYER, Plaintiff





         A. Proceedings in this Court

         On August 19, 2016, plaintiff filed the instant suit seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's unfavorable decision disallowing benefits. (Dkt. 1). Pursuant to Administrative Order No. 24 entered on January 29, 2018, this matter was assigned and referred to the undersigned magistrate judge. See Text-Only entry dated 1/29/18. This matter is before the Court on plaintiff's motion for judgment on the record. (Dkt. 37). The Commissioner filed a response to plaintiff's motion. (Dkt. 39).

         B. Administrative Proceedings

         Plaintiff filed the instant claims for period of disability and disability insurance benefits on August 20, 2012, alleging disability beginning on June 1, 2011. (Tr. 12).[1] The claim was initially disapproved by the Commissioner on January 28, 2013. (Tr. 13). Plaintiff requested a hearing, and on January 23, 2015, he appeared and testified, without counsel, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Renee S. Andrews-Turner, who considered the case de novo. (Tr. 29-57). In a decision dated April 10, 2015, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 9-24). Plaintiff requested a review of this decision (Tr. 7), and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on June 7, 2016. (Tr. 1-6); Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 543-44 (6th Cir. 2004).

         For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that plaintiff's motion for judgment on the record be DENIED and that the findings of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.


         Plaintiff was born in 1970 and was 41 years old, a younger individual, on the alleged disability date. (Tr. 23). Plaintiff has work history as a landscape laborer (heavy unskilled work), construction contractor (light skilled work), a construction painter (medium skilled work), harvest worker (medium unskilled work), fast food restaurant manager (light skilled work), janitor (medium semi-skilled work), waiter (light, semi-skilled work), and concrete laborer (heavy unskilled work. (Tr. 22). In a decision dated April 10, 2015, the ALJ applied the five-step disability analysis to plaintiff's claim and found at step one that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (Tr. 14). At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Id. At step three, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff's severe impairments did not meet or equal any listed impairment. (Tr. 15-16). The ALJ found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform full range of work at all exertional levels as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: the claimant can understand, remember and carry out simple and detailed instructions; can maintain concentration, pace and persistence for two hours at a time during an eight-hour workday; occasionally interact with the general public, coworkers and supervisors; and can adapt to infrequent change in the workplace.

(Tr. 16). At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform his past relevant work as a concrete laborer. (Tr. 22). In the alternative, at step five, the ALJ concluded that, based on the vocational expert testimony, plaintiff could perform a significant number of jobs available in the national economy with his RFC. (Tr. 23). Thus, the ALJ found plaintiff was not disabled under the Act from the application date through the date of the decision. (Tr. 24).


         A. Standard of Review

         In enacting the social security system, Congress created a two-tiered system in which the administrative agency handles claims, and the judiciary merely reviews the agency determination for exceeding statutory authority or for being arbitrary and capricious. Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521 (1990). The administrative process itself is multifaceted in that a state agency makes an initial determination that can be appealed first to the agency itself, then to an ALJ, and finally to the Appeals Council. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137 (1987). If the claimant does not obtain relief during this administrative review process, the claimant may file an action in federal district court. Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 537 (6th Cir. 1986).

         This Court has original jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Judicial review under this statute is limited in that the court “must affirm the Commissioner's conclusions absent a determination that the Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standard or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.” Longworth v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005); Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). In deciding whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, “we do not try the case de novo, resolve conflicts in evidence, or decide questions of credibility.” Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007); Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). “It is of course for the ALJ, and not the reviewing court, to evaluate the credibility of witnesses, including that of the claimant.” Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 247 (6th Cir. 2007); Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 475 (6th Cir. 2003) (an “ALJ is not required to accept a claimant's subjective complaints and may ... consider the credibility of a claimant when making a determination of disability.”); Cruse v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 502 F.3d 532, 542 (6th Cir. 2007) (the “ALJ's credibility determinations about the claimant are to be given great weight, particularly since the ALJ is charged with observing the claimant's demeanor and credibility.”) (quotation marks omitted); Walters, 127 F.3d at 531 (“Discounting credibility to a certain degree is appropriate where an ALJ finds contradictions among medical reports, claimant's testimony, and other evidence.”). “However, the ALJ is not free to make credibility determinations based solely upon an ‘intangible or intuitive notion about an individual's credibility.'” Rogers, 486 F.3d at 247 (quoting Soc. Sec. Rul. 96-7p, 1996 WL 374186, *4).

         If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Therefore, this Court may not reverse the Commissioner's decision merely because it disagrees or because “there exists in the record substantial evidence to support a different conclusion.” McClanahan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006); Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (en banc). 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, 486 F.3d at 241; Jones, 336 F.3d at 475. “The substantial evidence standard presupposes that there is a ‘zone of choice' within which the Commissioner may proceed without interference from the courts.” Felisky v. Bowen, 35 F.3d 1027, 1035 (6th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted) (citing Mullen, 800 F.2d at 545).

         The scope of this Court's review is limited to an examination of the record only. Bass, 499 F.3d at 512-13; Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 357 (6th Cir. 2001). When reviewing the Commissioner's factual findings for substantial evidence, a reviewing court must consider the evidence in the record as a whole, including that evidence which might subtract from its weight. Wyatt v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 974 F.2d 680, 683 (6th Cir. 1992). “Both the court of appeals and the district court may look to any evidence in the record, regardless of whether it has been cited by the Appeals Council.” Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 535 (6th Cir. 2001). There is no requirement, however, that either the ALJ or the reviewing court discuss every piece of evidence in the administrative record. Kornecky v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 167 Fed.Appx. 496, 508 (6th Cir. 2006) (“[a]n ALJ can consider all the evidence without directly addressing in his written decision every piece of evidence submitted by a party.”) (internal citation marks omitted); see also Van Der Maas v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 198 Fed.Appx. 521, 526 (6th Cir. 2006).

         B. Governing Law

         The “[c]laimant bears the burden of proving his entitlement to benefits.” Boyes v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 46 F.3d 510, 512 (6th Cir. 1994); accord, Bartyzel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 74 Fed.Appx. 515, 524 (6th Cir. 2003). There are several benefits programs under the Act, including the Disability Insurance Benefits Program (DIB) of Title II (42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq.) and Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI) of Title XVI (42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq.). Title II benefits are available to qualifying wage earners who become disabled prior to the expiration of their insured status. Title XVI benefits are available to poverty stricken adults and children who become disabled. While the two programs have different eligibility requirements, “DIB and SSI are ...

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