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Lemons v. Berryhill

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

June 21, 2018

CYNTHIA M. LEMONS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, performing the duties and functions not reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Debra C Poplin, United States Magistrate Judge

         This case is before the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the consent of the parties [Doc. 19]. Now before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 20 & 21] and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 24 & 25]. Cynthia M. Lemons (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”), the final decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill (“the Commissioner”). For the reasons that follow, the Court will DENY Plaintiff's motion and GRANT the Commissioner's motion.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On March 13, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income benefits pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1385, claiming a period of disability that began on August 27, 2007. [Tr. 209, 233]. After her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. [Tr. 123-25]. A hearing was held on August 8, 2014. [Tr. 51-84]. At the request of Plaintiff's counsel, a supplemental hearing was conducted on January 30, 2015, after the ALJ had ordered that consultative examinations be performed following the first hearing. [Tr. 32-50, 82-83]. On March 2, 2015, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. [Tr. 8-31]. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review [Tr. 1-6], making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed a Complaint with this Court on July 27, 2016, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision under Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act. [Doc. 1]. The parties have filed competing dispositive motions, and this matter is now ripe for adjudication.

         II. ALJ FINDINGS

         The ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 13, 2012, the application date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, and mood (bipolar) disorder. (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a). The claimant can lift and carry, push and pull ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently. With normal breaks in an eight-hour day, she can sit for six hours and stand and/or walk for two hours; she can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; cannot crawl; and can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, and crouch. She can frequently kneel; cannot lift her arms above her shoulders; and can tolerate one out of eight hours of exposure to hazards. The claimant can understand and perform simple and detailed, but not multi-step detailed, tasks; can maintain concentration, persistence and pace for these tasks; can relate to co-workers and supervisors for regular routines without intensive interaction; can relate to the general public on an occasional basis; and can adapt to gradual, and infrequent changes.
5. The claimant has no past relevant work. (20 CFR 416.965).
6. The claimant was born on January 29, 1969 and was 43 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the date the application was filed. The claimant subsequently changed age category to a younger individual age 45-49 (20 CFR 416.963).
7. The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).
8. Transferability of job skills is not an issue because the claimant does not have past relevant work (20 CFR 416.968).
9. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 416.969 and 416.969(a)).
10. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since March 13, 2012, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.920(g)).

[Tr. 13-26].

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When reviewing the Commissioner's determination of whether an individual is disabled pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court is limited to determining whether the ALJ's decision was reached through application of the correct legal standards and in accordance with the procedure mandated by the regulations and rulings promulgated by the Commissioner, and whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 405 (6th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted); Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004).

         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.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). It is immaterial whether the record may also possess substantial evidence to support a different conclusion from that reached by the ALJ, or whether the reviewing judge may have decided the case differently. Crisp v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 790 F.2d 450, 453 n.4 (6th Cir. 1986). The substantial evidence standard is intended to create a “‘zone of choice' within which the Commissioner can act, without the fear of court interference.” Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 773 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. ...


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