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Jines v. Berryhill

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

September 24, 2019

PAMELA L. JINES, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER’S DECISION

          TU M. PHAM UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the court is plaintiff Pamela L. Jines’s appeal from a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1385. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States magistrate judge under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons below, the decision is affirmed.

         I. FINDINGS OF FACT

         On December 16, 2015, Jines applied for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act. (R. 177.) Jines alleged disability beginning on October 9, 2015, due to depression, “specific phobia, ” “dysthymic disorder, ” and “diagnosis deferred on Axis II.” (R. 198; 202.) Jines’s application was denied initially and upon reconsideration by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). (R. 110; 120.) At Jines’s request, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on December 12, 2017. (R. 32.)

         After considering the record and the testimony given at the hearing, the ALJ used the five-step analysis to conclude that Jines was not disabled from the date the application was filed through the date of her decision. (R. 16.) At the first step, the ALJ found that Jines had not “engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 6, 2015, the alleged onset date.”[1] (R. 17.) At the second step, the ALJ concluded that Jines suffers from the following severe impairments: post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, recurrent moderate unspecified agoraphobia, anxiety disorder, and obesity. (R. 18.) At the third step, the ALJ concluded that Jines’s impairments do not meet or medically equal, either alone or in the aggregate, one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. 18.) The ALJ had to then determine whether Jines retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform past relevant work or could adjust to other work. The ALJ found that:

         [Jines] has the residual functional capacity to perform

a full range of work at all exertion levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: She can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She cannot work with or near dangerous and moving type of equipment or machinery, moving mechanical parts and unprotected heights. She must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and extreme heat. She can understand, remember and apply simple and routine instructions and tasks. She can interact frequently with supervisors, and with co-workers, and occasionally with the general public. She can maintain concentration, persistence and pace for two hours at a time over an eight-hour workday. She can adapt to infrequent changes in a work setting.

(R. 20-21.) The ALJ then found at step four that Jines had no past relevant work. (R. 25.) However, at step five the ALJ found that, considering Jines’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Jines can perform. (R. 25.) Accordingly, on April 2, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision denying Jines’s request for benefits after finding that Jines was not under a disability because she retained the RFC to adjust to work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. (R. 27.) On September 27, 2018, the SSA’s Appeals Council denied Jines’s request for review. (R. 1.) The ALJ’s decision then became the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 1.)

         On November 21, 2018, Jines filed the instant action. Jines has two arguments: (1) the ALJ improperly evaluated her statements about the severity and nature of her symptoms and (2) the ALJ misweighed the medical opinion evidence.

         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.; Cardew v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 896 F.3d 742, 745 (6th Cir. 2018); 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).

         B. The ...


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