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Stillwell v. Saul

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

August 28, 2019

CARRIE E. STILLWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Debra C. Poplin United States Magistrate Judge

         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. 21]. Now before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 24 & 25] and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 27 & 28]. Carrie E. Stillwell (“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 September 13, 2010, 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 an amended alleged onset date of January 4, 2012. [Tr. 1 at 26; Tr. 2 at 16].[2] Plaintiff also filed a concurrent application for disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act; however, Plaintiff states that she is not appealing the outcome of her Title II claim. [Doc. 25 at 1].

         On April 15, 2015, ALJ Jim Beeby issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claim for supplemental security income benefits. [Tr. 2 at 38-52]. The Appeals Council subsequently granted Plaintiff's request for review, and remanded the case on December 22, 2015, for the ALJ to address Plaintiff's objection to the vocational expert, Dr. J.D. Flynn, and to re-assess the weight given to the third-party function report from Plaintiff's husband. [Tr. 2 at 57-60]. A second hearing was held on July 18, 2016. [Tr. 3 at 621-42]. On November 1, 2016, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. [Tr. 2 at 16-33]. On August 18, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review [Tr. 2 at 4-7], making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed a Complaint with this Court on October 3, 2017, 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 January 4, 2012, the amended onset date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments, the combination of which is severe: super morbid obesity; degenerative disc disease; knee disorder; hypertension; hyperlipidemia; hypothyroidism (Grave's disease); depressive disorder; and anxiety disorder (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 less than the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a). The claimant can lift and carry, push and pull up to 10 pounds occasionally, and up to 10 pounds frequently. With normal breaks in an eight-hour day, she can sit for six hours, and stand and walk for three hours; can never climb ladders or scaffolds; can never crouch, or crawl; can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; and can occasionally balance, stoop, and kneel. The claimant can understand and remember simple, detailed and multi-step tasks, but not executive level tasks; can concentrate and persist for these tasks; can interact appropriately with co-workers and supervisors on an occasional basis, but interaction with the public should be on an occasional one-on-one basis; and can adapt to infrequent change.
5. The claimant has no past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).
6. The claimant was born on August 27, 1975 and was 35 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.963).
7. The claimant has 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. I have essentially complied with the Appeals Council remand order, set out in its entirety in exhibit B15B, by answering the representative's objection regarding the vocational expert, addressing the husband's third party function report, and holding a hearing where the claimant had an opportunity to testify, with vocational expert testimony.
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since January 4, 2012, the amended ...

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