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Craig v. Social Security Administration

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

February 21, 2019

HYMELIA L. CRAIG
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

          Honorable Aleta A. Trauger, District Judge.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Barbara D. Holmes, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) as provided under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). The case is currently pending on Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the administrative record. (Docket No. 17). Defendant has filed a response (Docket No. 19) and Plaintiff has filed a subsequent reply (Docket Entry No. 20) to Defendant's response.

         Upon review of the administrative record as a whole and consideration of the parties' filings, the Court recommends that Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the administrative record (Docket Entry No. 17) be DENIED.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on August 13, 2015. See Transcript of the Administrative Record, Docket Entry No. 15, at 57.[1] She alleged a disability onset date of May 15, 2015. Id. Plaintiff asserted that she was unable to work because of back pain. AR 57-58.

         Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. AR 74-76, 81-82. Pursuant to her request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before ALJ David A. Ettinger on April 5, 2018. AR 31-49. The ALJ subsequently denied the claim on July 12, 2017. AR 12-27. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision on February 20, 2018, AR 1-6, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. This civil action was thereafter timely filed, and the Court has jurisdiction. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. THE ALJ FINDINGS

         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision and made the following enumerated findings based upon the record:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2020.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 15, 2015, the alleged onset date. (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: lumbar degenerative disc disease; degenerative joint disease right knee; and bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. 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 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526).
5. 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 404.1567(a) except she cannot climb ladders; cannot more than occasionally climb stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; and is limited to jobs, which allow a worker to stand for up to five minutes after sitting 90 minutes.
6. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as an administrative assistant. This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from May 15, 2015, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(f)).

AR 17-21.

         III. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         A. Standard of Review

         The determination of disability under the Act is an administrative decision. The only questions before this Court upon judicial review are (i) whether the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence, and (ii) whether the Commissioner made legal errors in the process of reaching the decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (adopting and defining substantial evidence standard in context of Social Security cases); Kyle v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 609 F.3d 847, 854 (6th Cir. 2010). The Commissioner's decision must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence, “even if there is substantial evidence in the record that would have supported an opposite conclusion.” Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997)); Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 477 (6th Cir. 2003); Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999).

         Substantial evidence is defined as “more than a mere scintilla” and “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S.Ct. 206, 83 L.Ed. 126 (1938)); Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007); LeMaster v. Weinberger, 533 F.2d 337, 339 (6th Cir. 1976) (quoting Sixth Circuit opinions adopting language substantially similar to that in Richardson).

         The Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to the record made in the administrative hearing process. Jones v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 945 F.2d 1365, 1369 (6th Cir. 1991). A reviewing court may not try the case de novo, resolve conflicts in evidence, or decide questions of credibility. See, e.g., Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984) (citing Myers v. Richardson, 471 F.2d 1265, 1268 (6th Cir. 1972)). The Court must accept the ALJ's explicit findings and determination unless the record as a whole is without substantial evidence to support the ALJ's determination. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See, e.g., Houston v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 736 F.2d 365, 366 (6th Cir. 1984).

         B. Determining Disability at the Administrative Level

         The claimant has the ultimate burden of establishing an entitlement to benefits by proving her “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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 432(d)(1)(A). The asserted impairment(s) must be demonstrated by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 432(d)(3) and 1382c(a)(3)(D); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512(a), (c), and 404.1513(d). “Substantial gainful activity” not only includes previous work performed by the claimant, but also, considering the claimant's age, education, and work experience, any other relevant work that exists in the national economy in ...


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