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McConnell v. Saul

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

November 21, 2019

TINA L. MCCONNELL, 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. 12]. Now before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 13 & 14] and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 15 & 16]. Tina L. McConnell (“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 10, 2015, Plaintiff 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 February 21, 2015. [Tr. 15, 253-55]. After her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. [Tr. 171]. A hearing was held on February 28, 2017. [Tr. 39-68]. On September 8, 2017, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. [Tr. 134-46]. However, the Appeals Council remanded the case on November 28, 2017. [Tr. 144-46]. A second hearing before the ALJ was conducted on April 3, 2018. [Tr. 69-100]. The ALJ thereafter rendered an unfavorable decision on May 4, 2018, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. [Tr. 15-31]. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's Request for Review on July 10, 2018 [Tr. 1-6], making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed a Complaint with this Court on September 11, 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

         In his May 4, 2018 disability decision, ALJ James Dixon made the following findings:

1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2016.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of February 21, 2015 though her date late insured of December 31, 2016 (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the following severe impairments: degenerative joint disease in the left shoulder, fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and unspecified personality disorder with avoidant and dependent traits (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c). The claimant could lift and carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently. She could stand, walk, and sit about six hours each in an eight-hour day. She had unlimited ability for pushing and pulling within exertional limitations and there were no postural limitations. She could occasionally reach overhead with the left upper extremity. All other manipulative activities were unlimited. There were no visual or communicative limitations. She must avoid concentrated exposure to noise. The claimant would be able to maintain attention and concentration for two (2) hours at a time, as required for the performance of simple tasks. She could tolerate occasional social interactions. She would be able to adapt to occasional routine changes and respond to directions from others within the previously described restrictions.
6. Through the date last insured, the claimant was unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant was born on June 6, 1972 and was 44 years old, defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date last insured (20 CFR 404.1563).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Through the date last insured, considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant could have performed (20 CFR 404.1569 and 404.1569(a)).
11. The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from February 21, 2015, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2016, the date last insured (20 CFR 404.1520(g)).

[Tr. 17-31].

         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. ...


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