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Hickerson v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

June 14, 2018

HEATHER E. HICKERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER

          S. THOMAS ANDERSON, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Heather E. Hickerson filed this action to obtain judicial review of Defendant Commissioner's final decision denying her application for disability benefits under Title II and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”). Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which was held on March 15, 2016. On April 26, 2016, the ALJ denied the claim. The Appeals Council subsequently denied the request for review. Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the Commissioner's final decision. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a claimant may obtain judicial review of any final decision made by the Commissioner after a hearing to which he was a party. “The court shall have the power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court's review is limited to determining whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997); see also Landsaw v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs, 803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th Cir. 1986).

         Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971)). It is “more than a mere scintilla of evidence, but less than a preponderance.” Bell v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 105 F.3d 244, 245 (6th Cir. 1996) (citing Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The Commissioner, not the Court, is charged with the duty to weigh the evidence, to make credibility determinations and resolve material conflicts in the testimony and to decide the case accordingly. Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997); Crum v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 642, 644 (6th Cir. 1990); Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). When substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's determination, it is conclusive, even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion. Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004).

         Plaintiff was born on September 29, 1989, and has a high school education. Her previous employment consisted of working in fast food restaurants, at convenience stores as a clerk, and as a dry cleaner. She also cleaned houses. Plaintiff states that she quit this last job on September 15, 2011, as a result of back pain after being injured. She alleges disability beginning November 20, 2012, due to degenerative disc disease of the thoracic, lumbar, and intervertebral discs with pain and radiculopathy, anxiety and depression, headaches, and morbid obesity. She also allegedly suffers with asthma, arthritis, stomach aches, sleep loss, gastritis, and pain from her back, hips, shoulders, and legs.

         The ALJ made the following findings: (1) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the amended alleged onset date and met the insured status requirements of the Act through March 31, 2016; (2) Plaintiff has severe impairments of spine impairment and obesity; but she does not have impairments, either alone or in combination, that meet or equal the requirements of any listed impairment contained in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 of the listing of impairments; (3) Plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and § 416.967(b) except that standing and/or walking is limited to four hours in an eight-hour workday; she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; she can never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; and she can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; (4) Plaintiff is unable to perform her past relevant work; (5) Plaintiff was a younger individual with a high school education on the alleged onset date; (6) transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules (“the grids”) as a framework supports a finding that Plaintiff is not disabled whether or not she has transferable job skills; (7) considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, such as an envelope addresser and document preparer; (8) Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Act at any time through the date of this decision.[1]

         The Social Security Act defines disability as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of establishing an entitlement to benefits. Born v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs, 923 F.2d 1168, 1173 (6th Cir. 1990). The initial burden of going forward is on the claimant to show that he or she is disabled from engaging in his or her former employment; the burden of going forward then shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate the existence of available employment compatible with the claimant's disability and background. Id.

         The Commissioner conducts the following, five-step analysis to determine if an individual is disabled within the meaning of the Act:

1. An individual who is engaging in substantial gainful activity will not be found to be disabled regardless of medical findings.
2. An individual who does not have a severe impairment will not be found to be disabled.
3. A finding of disability will be made without consideration of vocational factors, if an individual is not working and is suffering from a severe impairment which meets the duration requirement and which meets or equals a listed impairment in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations.
4. An individual who can perform work that he has done in the past will not be found to be disabled.
5. If an individual cannot perform his or her past work, other factors including age, education, past work experience and residual functional capacity must be considered to ...

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