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Marlow v. Berryhill

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

January 11, 2019

MICHAEL DARREL MARLOW, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

         This case is before the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the Rules of this Court for a report and recommendation regarding disposition by the District Court of Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 19 & 20] and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 21 & 22]. Michael Darrel Marlow (“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 RECOMMEND that Plaintiff's motion [Doc. 19] be DENIED and the Commissioner's motion [Doc. 21] be GRANTED.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On March 12, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income benefits pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq., claiming a period of disability that began on July 1, 2003. [Tr. 23, 99, 178-82].[1] After his application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. [Tr. 131]. A hearing was held on March 9, 2016. [Tr. 40-68]. On July 22, 2016, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. [Tr. 23-34]. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on August 4, 2017 [Tr. 1-7], making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted his administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed a Complaint with this Court on October 2, 2017, 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 12, 2013, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: obesity, nearsighted vision, partial toe amputation, hypertension, pars defect, affective disorder, personality disorder, and alcohol abuse (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, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except he cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolding, and he can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, as well as being capable of occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling. He is capable of occasional overhead reaching, pushing, and pulling using his right upper extremity. His vision precludes jobs requiring accurate judgments of distance and speed. The claimant is able to work with large objects, able to do sustained detail work, and he is capable of working with small objects. He is able to avoid ordinary workplace hazards, such as boxes on the floor, doors ajar, or approaching people are [sic] vehicles. The claimant is limited to understanding, remembering, in carrying out simple, routine, and repetitive tasks performed in a work environment free from fast-paced work. His work should entail only simple work-related decisions and with few, if any, workplace changes. The claimant should not interact with the general public, but he is capable of occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors.
5. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).
6. The claimant was born on October 13, 1961 and was 51 years old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age, on the date the application was filed (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 in this case because the claimant's past relevant work is unskilled (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 12, 2013, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.920(g)).

         [Tr. 25-34].

         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. 1986)). Therefore, the Court will 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) (citation omitted).

         On review, the plaintiff “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) (citation omitted).

         IV. DISABILITY ELIGIBILITY

         “Disability” is the inability “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant will only be considered disabled:

if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.

§§ 423(d)(2)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         Disability is evaluated pursuant to a five-step analysis summarized as follows:

1. If claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled.
2. If claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity, his impairment must be severe before he can be found to be disabled.
3. If claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity and is suffering from a severe impairment that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and his impairment meets or equals a listed ...

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