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Chinn v. Berryhill

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

March 12, 2019

ALLEN CHINN PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          H. BRENT BRENNENSTUHL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         BACKGROUND

         Before the Court is the complaint (DN 1) of Allen Chinn seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN 17) and Defendant (DN 22) have filed a Fact and Law Summary. For the reasons that follow, the final decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED, and this matter is REMANDED pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to the Commissioner for further proceedings.

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties have consented to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge conducting all further proceedings in this case, including issuance of a memorandum opinion and entry of judgment, with direct review by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the event an appeal is filed (DN 11). By Order entered July 17, 2018 (DN 12), the parties were notified that oral arguments would not be held unless a written request therefor was filed and granted. No. such request was filed.

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         Chinn filed an application for disability insurance benefits on October 25, 2013 (Tr. 328). He also filed an application for supplemental security income on September 30, 2013 (Tr.336). In both applications, Chinn alleged that he became disabled on September 5, 2013 as a result of: heart murmur; heart attack; triple bypass surgery; crushed right shoulder; “messed up C5, C6 and C7;” and severed hand tendons (Tr. 151). Administrative Law Judge Amber Downs (''ALJ'') conducted a hearing on August 13, 2015 in Paducah, Kentucky. A second hearing was conducted via video on March 1, 2017. The ALJ participated from Tampa, Florida and Plaintiff represented by counsel, Sara J. Martin, participated from Owensboro, Kentucky. Also present and testifying at the 2015 hearing was Tom Wagner, M.D. an impartial medical expert and Kenneth Boaz, an impartial vocational expert. At the 2017 hearing, Thomas Passo, M.D. testified as an impartial medical expert and Lynn Jones as an impartial vocational expert.

         In a decision dated April 10, 2017, the ALJ evaluated this adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 19-29). At the first step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 5, 2013, the alleged onset date (Tr. 19). At the second step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's ischemic heart disease, depression, anxiety, degenerative disc disease, avascular necrosis of left hip, and degenerative joint disease are ''severe'' impairments within the meaning of the regulations (Tr. 19). Notably, at the second step, the ALJ also determined that Plaintiff's hypertension and insomnia are ''non-severe'' impairments within the meaning of the regulations (Tr. 19). At the third step, the ALJ concluded that prior to October 12, 2015, the date Chinn became disabled, he did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1 (Tr. 20).

         At the fourth step, the ALJ found that prior to October 12, 2015, the date Chinn became disabled, he had the residual functional capacity to perform less than a full range of sedentary work (Tr. 21). More specifically, the ALJ found that Chinn can lift 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently; stand/walk two hours in a workday; and sit 6 hours in a workday. He can occasionally climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds. He can occasionally be exposed to extreme cold and heat. He can occasionally perform right overhead reaching and frequently perform all other reaching on the right. He needs a sit/stand alternative after a period of 30 minutes. He is limited to simple routine tasks, occasional complex or detailed tasks, occasional contact with the general public and supervisors. He can have no sustained attention to detail and no strict quota based or face paced work environments. He cannot work in a loud or confusing work environment. (Tr. 21-22). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ found that since September 5, 2014, Chinn has been unable to perform any of his past relevant work (Tr. 27).

         The ALJ proceeded to the fifth step where he considered Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience as well as testimony from the vocational expert (Tr. 27-28). The ALJ found that prior to October 12, 2015 Chinn is capable of performing a significant No. of jobs that exist in the national economy (Tr. 27). The ALJ determined that beginning on October 12, 2015 the severity of claimant's impairments met the criteria of 4.04C of 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Tr. 28). Plaintiff timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 326-27). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-7).

         CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         Standard of Review

         Review by the Court is limited to determining whether the findings set forth in the final decision of the Commissioner are supported by ''substantial evidence, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Cotton v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 692, 695 (6th Cir. 1993); Wyatt v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 974 F.2d 680, 683 (6th Cir. 1992), and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Landsaw v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th Cir. 1986). A Substantial evidence exists when a reasonable mind could accept the evidence as adequate to support the challenged conclusion, even if that evidence could support a decision the other way. Cotton, 2 F.3d at 695 (quoting Casey v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993)). In reviewing a case for substantial evidence, the Court ''may not try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in evidence, nor decide questions of credibility. Cohen v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 964 F.2d 524, 528 (6th Cir. 1992) (quoting Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984)).

         As previously mentioned, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-7). At that point, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955(b), 404.981, 422.210(a); see 42 U.S.C. § 405(h) (finality of the Commissioner's decision). Thus, the Court will be reviewing the decision of the ALJ, not the Appeals Council, and the evidence that was in the administrative record when the ALJ rendered the decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); 20 C.F.R. § 404.981; Cline v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 96 F.3d 146, 148 (6th Cir. 1996); Cotton v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 692, 695-696 (6th Cir. 1993).

         The Commissioner's Sequential Evaluation Process

         The Social Security Act authorizes payment of Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income to persons with disabilities. 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. (Title II Disability Insurance Benefits), 1381 et seq. (Title XVI Supplemental Security Income). The term ''disability is defined as an

[I]nability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve (12) months.

42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) (Title II), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (Title XVI); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a); Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 214 (2002); Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990).

         The Commissioner has promulgated regulations setting forth a five-step sequential evaluation process for evaluating a disability claim. See Evaluation of disability in general, '' 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. In summary, the evaluation proceeds as follows:

1) Is the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity?
2) Does the claimant have a medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments that satisfies the duration requirement and significantly limits his or her ability to do basic work activities?
3) Does the claimant have an impairment that meets or medically equals the criteria of a listed impairment ...

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