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Burris v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division

April 13, 2017

ROBERT ALAN BURRIS PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          LANNY KING, MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs complaint seeking judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the final decision of the Commissioner denying his claim for Social Security disability benefits. Plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings (i.e., the administrative record) and Defendant's fact and law summary in opposition are at Dockets 16 and 23. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned Magistrate Judge to determine this case, with any appeal lying before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Docket 13.

         Because, at worst, Plaintiffs arguments identify a harmless error, the Court will DENY Plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings, AFFIRM the Commissioner's final decision, and DISMISS Plaintiff's complaint.

         Harmless-Error Review

         The principle that judicial review contemplates a deferential review of final agency decisions is deeply-embedded in case-law. See, for example, Shinseki v. Sanders, 556 U.S. 396, 407 (2009) (The harmless error doctrine is intended to prevent reviewing courts from becoming “impregnable citadels of technicality”); Heston v. Commissioner, 245 F.3d 528, 535-36 (6th Cir.2001) (Remand to correct an error committed by the ALJ unnecessary where such error was harmless); Fisher v. Secretary, 869 F.2d 1055, 1057 (7th Cir.1989) (“[N]o principle of administrative law or common sense requires us to remand a case in quest of a perfect opinion unless there is reason to believe that the remand might lead to a different result”); Bennyhill v. Secretary, 1993 WL 361792 (6th Cir.) (“[T]he court will remand the case to the agency for further consideration only if the court is in substantial doubt whether the administrative agency would have made the same ultimate finding with the erroneous finding removed from the picture”).

         Any unsupported finding that Plaintiff engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA) was harmless.

         The regulations promulgated by the Commissioner establish a 5-step sequential evaluation process:

1. If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, the claimant is not disabled.
2. If the claimant does not have a severe medically-determinable physical or mental impairment (i.e., an impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities), the claimant is not disabled.
3. If the claimant has a severe impairment satisfying the medical criteria of an impairment listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations and the 12-month duration requirement, the claimant is disabled.
4. If the claimant's impairment(s) and associated restrictions do not prevent him from doing his past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled.
5. If the claimant can perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy, he is not disabled. Otherwise, he is disabled.

Rubbers v. Commissioner, 582 F.3d 647, 652 (6th Cir. 2009) citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.920.

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's first-step finding that he engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA) during the time in which he alleges ...


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