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Adams v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, Pikeville

January 18, 2018

VERNA MAE ADAMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, in her official capacity as the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, DEFENDANT.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          EDWARD B. ATKINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff, Verna Mae Adams, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) to challenge Defendant Commissioner's final decision denying Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income. [R. 1]. This matter has been referred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of a final judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). [R. 16; R. 17; R. 18]. The specific matters currently before this Court include Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, [R. 13], and Defendant's responsive Motion for Summary Judgment, [R. 15]. Both matters are now ripe for decision, and, for the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, [R. 13], shall be DENIED, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, [R. 15], shall be GRANTED.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental social security income due to disability on February 27, 2014. [R. 11-1 at 20]. Her claim was denied for the first time on May 20, 2014. [Id.]. Plaintiff's claim was denied for the second time on July 8, 2014, following further administrative review. [Id.]. Additional hearings were held on September 18, 2015 and January 15, 2016. And, on February 24, 2016, Plaintiff's claim was denied for the third time. [R. 11-1 at 17-28]. Plaintiff then filed an administrative appeal; on April 12, 2017, however, the Appeals Counsel declined review. [Id. at 2]. Plaintiff, having exhausted her administrative remedies, then sought review through an action in this Court, which she filed June 2, 2017. [R. 1].

         Plaintiff has now moved for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c), making arguments against only two of the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) determinations. [R. 13]. First, Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ's determination of her residual functional capacity as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(1) was not supported by substantial evidence, as the ALJ rejected the opinion of her treating physician and failed to consider the factors required under 20 C.F.R. § 416.927. [R. 13-1 at 8-14]. “This error is harmful because had the ALJ appropriately weighed Dr. Breeding's opinion, the ALJ would have found that Plaintiff is disabled.” [Id. at 11]. Second, Plaintiff alleges the ALJ's determination of her lack of credibility as to the amount of work she is able to perform is not supported by substantial evidence. [Id. at 14-15]. The ALJ “failed to explain how he found the nature of her impairments credible, but not the assertion she is unable to work.” [Id. at 15].

         Responding to Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). [R. 15]. Therein, Defendant emphasizes the deferential nature of substantial evidence review of the final action of an ALJ and state that the ALJ actually gave sound reasons for rejecting the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician. [R. 15 at 4-10]. “The ALJ concluded that Dr. Breeding's opinion was entitled to little weight due to its inconsistency with the record, including Dr. Breeding's own treatment notes.” [Id. at 6]. Similarly, Defendant argues that the ALJ correctly found Plaintiff's statements as to her ability to work incredible. [Id. at 11-12]. Further, that “Plaintiff's specific criticisms are insufficient to overcome the deference owed to the ALJ as finder of fact.” [Id. at 12].

         JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS AND SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS

         This action is now before this Court on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. [R. 13; R. 15]. Plaintiff styled her motion as one for judgment on the pleadings. [R. 13]. Although “a party may move for judgment on the pleadings, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c), if such a motion relies on matters outside the pleadings, as the Plaintiff's does, “the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d).

         “A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Id. In making the determination as to whether summary judgment is warranted, “a court must view the evidence ‘in the light most favorable to the opposing party.'” Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (quoting Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970)). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Id. (quoting Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). In such a case, summary judgment is warranted. Alabama v. North Carolina, 560 U.S. 330, 344 (2010); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         “[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). But there is “no express or implied requirement in Rule 56 that the moving party support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim.” Id. As such, in some cases, the moving party may be “‘entitled to a judgment as a matter of law' because the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof.” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56). Such a motion “therefore requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted). This is so because “[o]ne of the principal purposes of the summary judgment rule is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses.” Id. at 323-24. “[T]he existence of a mere scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position will not be sufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the non-moving party.” Sutherland v. Mich. Dept. of Treasury, 344 F.3d 603, 613 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251 (1986)).

         This standard is not altered upon the submission of cross motions for summary judgment. Upon encountering cross motions for summary judgment, a district court is not required to grant judgment for one side or the other. Sedona Corp. v. Open Solutions, Inc., 646 F.Supp.2d 262 (D.Conn. 2009). Rather, each motion is considered on its own merits, taking care in each instance to draw the proper inferences against the party whose motion is being considered. Id.; see, e.g., Harbin-Bey v. Rutter, 420 F.3d 571, 575 (6th Cir. 2005); Farmer's and Miner's Bank v. Terry Lee et al., 2017 WL 4707457 (E.D. Ky. Oct. 19, 2017) (No. 6:15-CV-64-HAI); Leonel Miranda Martinez v. Steve Hiland et al., 2017 WL 4799861 (W.D. Ky. Oct. 24, 2017) (5:13-CV-P182-GNS) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).

         STANARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a reviewing court “must affirm the Commissioner's conclusions absent a determination that the Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standard or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.” Longworth v. Comm'r Soc. Sec., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). The scope of judicial review is limited to the record itself, and the reviewing court “may not try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in evidence, nor decide questions of credibility.” Hogg v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 328, 331 (6th Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). The Sixth Circuit has held that “substantial evidence exists when a reasonable mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to support a conclusion.” Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). The limited nature of substantial evidence review prevents the reviewing court from substituting its judgment for that of the ALJ. Rather, so long as substantial evidence exists, the reviewing court should affirm the ALJ's decision “even if there is substantial evidence in the record that would have supported an opposite conclusion.” Longworth, 402 F.3d at 595 (citations omitted). 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.” Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). “The substantial evidence standard presupposes that there is a ‘zone of choice' within which the ...


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