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Word v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 6, 2019




         Plaintiff Shonteniesha R. Word (“Plaintiff”), acting pro se, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denying her disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Each party has moved for judgment [Docs. 21[1] & 23], and this matter is now ripe.[2] For the reasons stated below: (1) Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment [Doc. 21] will be DENIED; (2) the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment [Doc. 23] will be GRANTED; and (3) the decision of the Commissioner will be AFFIRMED.


         According to the administrative record [Doc. 11 (“Tr.”)], Plaintiff filed her application for DIB on March 22, 2016, alleging disability beginning July 21, 2015. Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and on reconsideration at the agency level. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which was held on December 5, 2017. On March 20, 2018, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act at any time from the alleged onset date through the date of the decision. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff timely filed the instant action.


         A. Education and Employment Background

         Plaintiff was born June 28, 1980, making her a “younger individual age 18-49, ” at all relevant times. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c). She graduated high school and completed one year of college, and she is able to communicate in English. She has past relevant work as a welder and a hand packager, both of which are classified in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles[3] (“DOT”) as unskilled, medium exertional level jobs.

         B. Medical Records

         In her Disability Report, Plaintiff alleged disability due to hydronephrosis, urethral stricture, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, self-esteem problems, severe pain, paranoia, “appetite problems, ” “sleep problems, ” and restricted daily activities (Tr. 225). While there is no need to summarize the medical records herein, the relevant records have been reviewed and will be discussed below if necessary.

         C. Hearing Testimony

         At the hearing before the ALJ on December 5, 2017, Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. Plaintiff was represented by an attorney at the hearing, although she is not represented in the instant lawsuit. The Court has carefully reviewed the transcript of the hearing (Tr. 28-72).


         A. Eligibility

         “The Social Security Act defines a disability as 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 12 months.'” Schmiedebusch v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 536 Fed.Appx. 637, 646 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)); see also Parks v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 413 Fed.Appx. 856, 862 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). A claimant is disabled “only 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.” Parks, 413 Fed.Appx. at 862 (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)). The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) determines eligibility for disability benefits by following a five-step process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The five-step process provides:

1) If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, the claimant is not disabled.
2) If the claimant does not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment-i.e., an impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities-the claimant is not disabled.
3) If the claimant has a severe impairment(s) that meets or equals one of the listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations and meets the duration requirement, the claimant is disabled.
4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him or her from doing his or her past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled.
5) If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is not disabled.

Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 652 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). The claimant bears the burden to show the extent of his impairments, but at step five, the Commissioner bears the burden to show that, notwithstanding those impairments, there are jobs the claimant is capable of performing. See Ealy v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 594 F.3d 504, 512-13 (6th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted).

         B. The ALJ's Findings

         The ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through September 30, 2019. At step one of the five-step process, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: (1) urinary tract disorder with chronic traumatic deformity, (2) hydronephrosis, and (3) major depressive disorder with psychosis. The ALJ also found Plaintiff was obese, but that this condition caused no more than minimal limitations to Plaintiff's ability to perform basic work activities and was therefore a non-severe impairment. At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.

         Next, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), with the following clarifications/additional restrictions:

• She can lift and carry a maximum of 15 pounds occasionally and up to 10 pounds frequently.
• She can sit, with normal breaks, for about 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday; and stand or walk for about 4 hours out of an 8-hour workday.
• Pushing or pulling with the bilateral upper extremities is limited to frequent, and no operation of foot controls with ...

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