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Wright v. Berryhill

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

July 22, 2019

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

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          TU M. PHAM UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before the court is plaintiff Bobby Wright's appeal from a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security[1] (“Commissioner”) denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1385. (ECF No. 1.) The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (ECF No. 9.) For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         I. FINDINGS OF FACT

         Wright applied for SSI on April 2, 2015. (R. 35; 153-58.) The claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. (R. 83-85; 93-98.) At Wright's request, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing and issued a written decision. (R. 32-43.) In her written decision, the ALJ first found that Wright had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date. (R. 37.) Second, the ALJ determined that Wright had severe impairments of hypertension and ischemic heart disease. (R. 37.) Third, the ALJ determined Wright 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. (R. 38.) Next, the ALJ determined that Wright retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except that he “can occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, never work at unprotected heights or in an environment with concentrated exposure to temperature extremes or humidity.” (R. 39.) Fourth, the ALJ found that Wright has no past relevant work. (R. 41.) Given Wright's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined that jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Wright could perform. (R. 42.) Thus, the ALJ found that Wright was not disabled. (R. 43.) The Social Security Administration's (“SSA”) Appeals Council denied Wright's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 1.)

         Wright filed the instant action on September 13, 2018. (ECF No. 1.) Wright argues that (1) the ALJ erred in failing to find that Wright's supraventricular tachycardia was a severe impairment and thus failed to consider whether the appropriate Listing had been met; (2) by failing to identify and consider all severe impairments, the ALJ failed to properly incorporate all of Wrights restrictions in her RFC assessment; and (3) given these legal errors the Commissioner failed to meet its burden at Step Five. (Id. at 1.)

         II. CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         A. Standard of Review

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a claimant may obtain judicial review of any final decision made by the Commissioner after a hearing to which he or she was a party. “The court shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to whether there is substantial evidence to support the decision and whether the Commissioner used the proper legal criteria in making the decision. Id.; Winn v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 615 Fed.Appx. 315, 320 (6th Cir. 2015); Cole v. Astrue, 661 F.3d 931, 937 (6th Cir. 2011); Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance and is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Kirk v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 535 (6th Cir. 1981) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).

         In determining whether substantial evidence exists, the reviewing court must examine the evidence in the record as a whole and “must ‘take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight.'” Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990) (quoting Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 388 (6th Cir. 1984)). If substantial evidence is found to support the Commissioner's decision, however, the court must affirm that decision and “may not even inquire whether the record could support a decision the other way.” Barker v. Shalala, 40 F.3d 789, 794 (6th Cir. 1994) (quoting Smith v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 893 F.2d 106, 108 (6th Cir. 1989)). Similarly, the court may not try the case de novo, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or decide questions of credibility. Ulman v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007)). Rather, the Commissioner, not the court, is charged with the duty to weigh the evidence, to make credibility determinations, and to resolve material conflicts in the testimony. Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997); Crum v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 642, 644 (6th Cir. 1990); Kiner v. Colvin, No. 12-2254-JDT, 2015 WL 1295675, at *1 (W.D. Tenn. Mar. 23, 2015).

         B. The Five-Step Analysis

         The Act defines 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.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1). Additionally, section 423(d)(2) of the Act states that:

An individual shall be determined to be under a disability 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, 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. For purposes of the preceding sentence (with respect to any individual), “work which exists in the national economy” means work which exists in significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.

         Under the Act, the claimant bears the ultimate burden of establishing an entitlement to benefits. Oliver v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 415 Fed.Appx. 681, 682 (6th Cir. 2011). The initial burden is on the claimant to prove she has a disability as defined by the Act. Siebert v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 105 Fed.Appx. 744, 746 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing Walters, 127 F.3d at 529); see also Born v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 923 F.2d 1168, 1173 (6th Cir. 1990). If the claimant is able to do so, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate the existence of available employment compatible with the claimant's disability and background. Born, 923 F.2d at 1173; see also Griffith v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 582 Fed.Appx. 555, 559 (6th Cir. 2014).

         Entitlement to social security benefits is determined by a five-step sequential analysis set forth in the Social Security Regulations. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 & 416.920. First, the claimant must not be engaged in substantial gainful activity. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b) & 416.920(b). Second, a finding must be made that the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii) & 416.920(a)(5)(ii). In the third step, the ALJ determines whether the impairment meets or equals the severity criteria set forth in the Listing of Impairments contained in the Social Security Regulations. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526. If the impairment satisfies the criteria for a listed impairment, the claimant is considered to be disabled. On the other hand, if the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, the ALJ must undertake the fourth step in the analysis and determine whether the claimant has the RFC to return to any past relevant work. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv) & 404.1520(e). If the ALJ determines that the claimant can return to past relevant work, then a finding of not disabled must be entered. Id. But if the ALJ finds the claimant unable to perform past relevant work, then at the fifth step the ALJ must determine whether ...


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