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Wright v. Berryhill

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

April 21, 2019

PIERRE WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER

          DIANE K. VESCOVO CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         On June 7, 2018, the plaintiff, Pierre Wright (“Wright”), proceeding pro se, filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) on the court-provided form seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq.[1] (Compl. ¶ III, ECF No. 1.) Wright also filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, (ECF No. 2), which the court granted on June 18, 2018, (ECF No. 4). He seeks, as relief, reversal of the unfavorable decision. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) This case was referred to the United States Magistrate Judge for management and for all pretrial matters for determination and/or report and recommendation as appropriate. (Admin. Order 2013-05, Apr. 29, 2013.) For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.

         I. PROPOSED FINDINGS OF FACT

         A. Procedural History

         In May 2014, Wright applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. (R. at 157-71.) Wright alleges that his disability commenced on January 18, 2014, (id. at 159), when he became unable to work because of schizophrenia, depression, and a broken leg with associated arthritis, (id. at 189-95).[2] Wright's claims were denied initially on September 10, 2014, (id. at 64-65), and again upon reconsideration on August 28, 2015, (id. at 88-89). Wright requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id. at 129.) He appeared and testified at the hearing before the ALJ on June 22, 2017 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Id. at 29-43.) On August 16, 2017, ALJ John A. Peebles issued an unfavorable decision denying benefits. (Id. at 10-28.) Wright appealed the ALJ's decision to the Social Security Appeals Council (“Appeals Council”), and on April 13, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Wright's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 1-5.) Accordingly, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. On June 7, 2018, Wright filed the present lawsuit seeking judicial review of the ALJ's August 16, 2017 decision. (Compl., ECF No. 1.)

         B. Factual Background

         Born on June 16, 1990, Wright was twenty-three years old on January 18, 2014, the date alleged as the onset of disability. (R. at 159, 166.) He completed the twelfth grade and attended multiple semesters of college but did not complete a college degree. (Id. at 191.) Wright has specialized forklift training. (Id.) Wright has worked as a cook, a material handler, and an overnight associate at a grocery store, (id. at 192), but he was unemployed at the time of the ALJ hearing, (id. at 36-37.)

         In his disability report, Wright alleged disability due to schizophrenia, depression, and a broken leg with associated arthritis and lower extremity weakness. (Id. at 190.) In his function report, Wright alleged complications stemming from his leg injury. (Id. at 212-19.) He claimed that these conditions affect his ability to lift, squat, bend, stand, see, remember, concentrate, and understand. (Id. at 217, 238-45.) He stated that his conditions limit his ability to work because he “can't stand for long periods of time” and “can't play ball like [he] used to.” (Id. at 212.) As to activities of daily living, Wright stated in his function report that he is able to feed himself, prepare frozen dinners and sandwiches, shop for food and clothes, follow instructions, watch television, do yard work, go to church and visit friends, and can walk for thirty (30) minutes before resting. (Id. at 212-19.) Wright also reported that he travels on foot, by riding a bicycle, or by using public transportation. (Id. at 215.) Wright stated that he is able to count change and handle a savings account but is unable to pay bills or use a checkbook or money orders. (Id.)

         At his hearing before the ALJ, Wright testified that his mental illnesses hinder his ability to work. When asked about the main factor preventing him from working, Wright testified, “my employers have told me, you know, there's some - some - something quite not right about my mental - you know, my engagement with people and things of that nature. That's one, my mental - from a mental perspective.” (Id. at 38.)

         The record contains treatment records and medical opinions from 2014 to 2016. The relevant records are discussed infra.

         C. The ALJ's Decision and the Five-Step Analysis

         The ALJ rendered his decision on August 16, 2017. (R. at 13- 24.) Using the five-step disability analysis, [3] the ALJ concluded that Wright was not disabled from January 18, 2014, the alleged disability onset date, through the date of his decision. (Id. at 23.)

         Under the first step of the sequential analysis, the claimant must not be engaged in substantial gainful activity for a period of not less than twelve months. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b). At this first step, the ALJ found that Wright had not engaged in substantial gainful activity for a continuous twelve-month period. (R. at 16.) The ALJ found, however, that Wright worked after his alleged onset date and that his wages were below the threshold for substantial gainful activity in both 2014 and 2015, but he performed work at substantial gainful activity in the first quarter of 2016. (Id.)

         At the second step, a finding must be made that the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c). At this step, the ALJ found that Wrights suffers from a history of alcohol abuse and depressive disorder. (R. at 16.) The ALJ found that both of these conditions constitute severe impairments and collectively exert a more than minimal effect on Wright's ability to perform work. (Id.) The ALJ found, however, that Wright's mental limitations do not result in disabling functional limitations when considered with or without the substance abuse. (Id.)

         In the third step, the ALJ determines whether the impairments meet or equal the severity criteria set forth in the Listing of Impairments contained in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P. App. 1. See 20 C.F.R. ยงยง 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d). At this step, the ALJ found that Wright's impairments ...


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