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Hurst v. Saul

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

August 15, 2019

DAVID R. HURST, 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. 17]. Now before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 15 & 16] and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 18 & 19]. David R. Hurst (“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 GRANT Plaintiff's motion and DENY the Commissioner's motion.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff previously received Supplemental Security Income Benefits as a child from September 2001 through September 2007 due to cerebral palsy with right side hemiplegia, cognitive deficits, a seizure disorder, and a vision issue, as Plaintiff's condition met Listing 111.07. [Tr. 11]. However, Plaintiff's eligibility for benefits ceased in 2007 due to an increase in household income. [Id.].

         On February 20, 2016, 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 January 25, 1998, his date of birth. [Tr. 11, 176-83]. After his application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. [Tr. 122-34]. A hearing was held on August 22, 2017. [Tr. 27-69]. On October 25, 2017, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. [Tr. 11-21]. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 1, 2018 [Tr. 1-5], making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted his administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed a Complaint with this Court on June 13, 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 February 20, 2016, the application date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: cerebral palsy with mild right hemiparesis, seizure disorder, headaches, and cognitive function in the borderline range (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, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except that he is precluded from climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; is limited to occasional climbing ramps or stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling; and is limited to frequent handling, fingering, and feeling with the right upper extremity. He should avoid moderate exposure to extreme cold and vibration. He should avoid concentrated exposure to wetness and humidity and to pulmonary irritants. He should avoid all exposure to work place hazards. He is unable to operate foot controls with the right lower extremity and is unable to perform commercial driving. He is able to perform simple tasks where changes in the work routine are infrequent.
5. The claimant was born on January 25, 1998, and was 18 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.963).
6. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).
7. Transferability of job skills is not an issue because the claimant does not have past relevant work (20 CFR 416.968).
8. 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)).
9. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since February 20, 2016, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.920(g)).

[Tr. 13-20].

         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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