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Murphy v. Saul

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

July 22, 2019

DANIEL RAY MURPHY, 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. 15]. Now before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 16 & 17] and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 23 & 24]. Daniel Ray Murphy (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”), the final decision of Defendant Andrew M. Saul (“the Commissioner”). For the reasons that follow, the Court will DENY Plaintiff's motion and GRANT the Commissioner's motion.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On March 2, 2010, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., alleging disability beginning on May 15, 2000. [Tr. 84]. After his application was denied and Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, ALJ Eduardo Soto found on December 22, 2011 that Plaintiff was not disabled between May 15, 2000 and September 30, 2005, his date last insured under Title II. [Tr. 84-93].

         On December 16, 2014, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income benefits pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq., claiming a period of disability that began on December 16, 2015, the amended onset date. [Tr. 12, 265, 323 (amended onset date)]. Plaintiff also filed another application for Title II benefits, but this application was denied because Plaintiff had not been insured under Title II after the prior ALJ decision. [Tr. 262].

         After his Title XVI application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. [Tr. 159]. A hearing was held on January 6, 2017. [Tr. 68- 80]. On February 28, 2017, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. [Tr. 12-29]. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on December 4, 2017 [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 February 2, 2018, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision under Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act. [Doc. 1]. 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 has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 16, 2014, the application date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine; cervicalgia; lumbago; hepatitis C; anxiety disorder, not otherwise specified (NOS); depressive disorder, NOS; antisocial personality disorder; bipolar disorder, mixed, chronic; agoraphobia with panic disorder; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); and poly-substance dependence in remission (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
3. 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 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except never crouching, crawling, or kneeling; other postural limited to occasional; never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, heights, or dangerous machinery; requires 30 minute sit/stand option; no work around children or schools; can understand, remember, and carryout simple instructions; can make work-related judgments typically required for unskilled work; can respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and work situations; can have contact with the general public on a rare, defined as less than 10% of the time, basis and with supervisors and co-workers on an occasional basis; can deal with changes in a routine work setting on an infrequent, defined as less than 10% per day, basis; should not work in a fast-paced production environment.
5. The claimant has no past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).
6. The claimant was born on December 7, 1977 and was 37 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.963).
7. The claimant at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).
8. Transferability of job skills is not an issue because the claimant does not have past relevant work (20 CFR 416.968).
9. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 416.969, and 416.969(a)).
10. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since December 16, 2014, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.920(g)).

[Tr. 15-28].

         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” is 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant 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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