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Church v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

July 12, 2019

PAUL RAMARO CHURCH, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, [1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         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. 16].

         Now before the Court is Plaintiff's Amended Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 27 & 28] and Defendant's Amended Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 30 & 31]. Paul R. Church (“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 August 11, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits pursuant to Title II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. and 1381 et seq., claiming a period of disability that began on April 10, 2012. [Tr. 10, 58-59]. After his application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. [Tr. 87]. A hearing was held on February 7, 2017. [Tr. 24-37]. On May 31, 2017, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. [Tr. 10-19]. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on February 27, 2018 [Tr. 1-6], making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted his administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed a Complaint with this Court on March 16, 2018, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision under Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act. [Doc. 1]. Plaintiff filed his first Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. 17] on June 26, 2018, to which the Commissioner responded through his Motion for Summary Judgment on September 7, 2018 [Doc. 21]. However, the parties subsequently filed a Joint Motion to Extend Period for Responsive Briefing [Doc. 25] due to the submission of a Supplemental Transcript [Doc. 24]. The Court granted the joint motion on September 12, 2018 [Doc. 26]. Plaintiff filed his Amended Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. 27] on September 28, 2018, and the Commissioner filed his Amended Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 30] on October 23, 2018. This case was subsequently reassigned to the undersigned on May 3, 2019. [Doc. 32]. 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 meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 10, 2012, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq. and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(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, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c).
6. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a warehouse worker tow motor operator. This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from April 10, 2012, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(f) and 416.920(f)).

         [Tr. 13-19].

         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” means an individual cannot “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. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(A). An individual 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 ...


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