United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, at Knoxville Division
THOMAS A. VARLAN, Chief District Judge.
This civil action is before the Court on plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 10, 12] and defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 13, 14]. Plaintiff Randall T. Holloway seeks judicial review of the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), the final decision of defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner").
On May 6, 2011, plaintiff protectively filed a Title II and Title XVIII application for disability insurance benefits with the Social Security Administration with an alleged onset date of January 1, 2011 [Tr. 82-85, 138]. The Social Security Administration denied plaintiff's application initially and upon reconsideration [Tr. 40-42, 48-49]. Plaintiff timely filed a request for a hearing, and he appeared before Administrative Law Judge Joan Lawrence on August 9, 2012, in Knoxville, Tennessee [Tr. 23, 37-39]. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on November 15, 2012 [Tr. 7-22]. Plaintiff requested review of the decision, which the Appeals Council declined on February 26, 2014 [Tr. 1-6].
Having exhausted his administrative remedies, plaintiff filed a complaint with this Court on March 31, 2014, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision under Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act [Doc. 2]. The parties have filed competing dispositive motions, and this matter is ripe for adjudication.
I. ALJ FINDINGS
The ALJ made the following findings:
1 The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2015.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2011, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: obesity and degenerative disc disease (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals 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 the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except the claimant can perform frequent climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling.
6. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as an assistant apartment manager (DOT 186.167-018). This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 1, 2011, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(f)).
II. DISABILITY ELIGIBILITY
To qualify for disability insurance benefits, plaintiff must file an application and pass the five-step sequential evaluation outlined below. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. "Disability" is the "inability to do 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 12 months." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a).
An individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
Disability is evaluated pursuant to a five-step analysis summarized as follows:
1. If claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled.
2. If claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity, his impairment must be severe before he can be found to be disabled.
3. If claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity and is suffering from a severe impairment that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and his impairment meets or equals a listed impairment, claimant is presumed disabled without further inquiry.
4. If claimant's impairment does not prevent him from doing his past relevant work, he is not disabled.
5. Even if claimant's impairment does prevent him from doing his past relevant work, if other work exists in the national economy that accommodates his residual functional capacity ("RFC") and vocational factors (age, education, skills, etc.), he is not disabled.
Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 529 (6th Cir. 1997) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520). Plaintiff bears the burden of proof at the first four steps. Id. The burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Id. At the fifth step, the Commissioner must prove that there is work available in the national economy that the claimant could perform. Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th Cir. 1999) (citing Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 (1987)).
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 applied the correct legal standards and whether the findings of the ALJ are supported by substantial evidence." Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 405 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997)). If the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and his findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record, his decision is conclusive and must be affirmed. Warner v. Comm r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 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) (quotation omitted); see also Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
It is immaterial whether the record may also possess substantial evidence to support a different conclusion from that reached by the ALJ, or whether the reviewing judge may have decided the case differently. Crisp v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 790 F.2d 450, 453 n.4 (6th Cir. 1986). The substantial evidence standard is intended to create a "zone of choice' within which the Commissioner can act, without the fear of court interference." Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 773 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986)). Therefore, the Court will not "try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in evidence, nor decide questions of credibility." Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). In addition to reviewing the ALJ's findings to determine whether they were supported by substantial evidence, the Court also reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether it was reached through application of the correct legal standards and in accordance with the procedure mandated by the regulations ...