United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Northeastern Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
JEFFERY S. FRENSLEY United States Magistrate Judge
a civil action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g) and 1383(c)(3), to obtain judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security finding that
Plaintiff was not disabled and denying Plaintiff Disability
Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental
Security Income ("SSI"), as provided under the
Social Security Act ("the Act"), as amended. The
case is currently pending on Plaintiffs Motion for Judgment
on the Administrative Record. Docket No. 16. Plaintiff has
filed an accompanying Memorandum. Docket No. 17. Defendant
has filed a Response, arguing that the decision of the
Commissioner was supported by substantial evidence and should
be affirmed. Docket No. 18.
reasons stated below, the undersigned recommends that
Plaintiffs Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record
be DENIED, and that the decision of the Commissioner be
filed his applications for DIB and SSI on July 8, 2011, with
a protective filing date of June 27, 2011, alleging that he
had been disabled since January 29, 1996, due to back injury
with nerve damage, lung problems, and Hepatitis C. Docket No.
12, Attachment ("TR"), TR 87-90, 156, 163, 192.
Plaintiff later amended his alleged onset date to December 4,
2008. TR 255. Plaintiffs applications were denied both
initially (TR 87, 88) and upon reconsideration (TR 89, 90).
Plaintiff subsequently requested (TR 108) and received (TR
57-86) a hearing. Plaintiffs hearing was conducted on June
11, 2013, by Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Mark
Siegel. TR 57. Plaintiff and vocational expert
("VE"), Ernest Brewer, appeared and testified.
19, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision unfavorable to Plaintiff,
finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of
the Social Security Act and Regulations. TR 34-36.
Specifically, the ALJ made the following findings of fact:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2013.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since December 4, 2008, the amended alleged onset
date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: lumbar
degenerative disc disease; hypertension; chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease; borderline intellectual functioning;
learning disorder; depressive disorder; post-traumatic stress
disorder; alcohol dependence; and generalized anxiety
disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(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, 404.1526,
416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
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) and 416.967(b), except the claimant can only
occasionally perform such postural activities as climbing,
balancing, stooping, crouching, crawling and kneeling. The
claimant should not have concentrated exposure to pulmonary
irritants. The claimant can understand, remember, and carry
out simple and 1 to 3 step detailed instructions, but he is
better suited working in an object-focused setting with
things rather than people. The claimant reads at a fifth
grade level and performs math at a fourth grade level.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on December 27, 1967 and was 40
years old, which is defined as a younger individual age
18-49, on the amended alleged disability onset date
of December 4, 2008 (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has a limited education and is able to
communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
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. Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a),
416.969, and 416.969(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from January 29, 1996, through
the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and
TR 39-50 (emphasis in original).
August 2, 2013, Plaintiff timely filed a request for review
of the hearing decision. TR 33. On September 9, 2014, the
Appeals Council issued a letter declining to review the case
(TR 1-6), thereby rendering the decision of the ALJ the final
decision of the Commissioner. This civil action was
thereafter timely filed, and the Court has jurisdiction. 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). If the Commissioner's findings are
supported by substantial evidence, based upon the record as a
whole, then these findings are conclusive. Id.
REVIEW OF THE RECORD
parties and the ALJ have thoroughly summarized and discussed
the medical and testimonial evidence of record. Accordingly,
the Court will discuss those matters only to the extent
necessary to analyze the parties' arguments.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
Standards of Review
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
limited to the record made in the administrative hearing
process. Jones v. Sec 'y of Health & Human
Servs., 945 F.2d 1365, 1369 (6th Cir. 1991). The purpose
of this review is to determine: (1) whether substantial
evidence exists in the record to support the
Commissioner's decision, and (2) whether any legal errors
were committed in the process of reaching that decision.
Landsaw v. Sec 'y of Health & Human Servs.,
803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th Cir. 1986).
evidence" means "such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the
conclusion." Her v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec,
203 F.3d 388, 389 (6th Cir. 1999), citing Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). "Substantial
evidence" has been further quantified as "more than
a mere scintilla of evidence, but less than a
preponderance." Bell v. Comm 'r o/Soc. Sec,
105 F.3d 244, 245 (6th Cir. 1996), citing Consol. Edison
Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938).
reviewing court does not substitute its findings of fact for
those of the Commissioner if substantial evidence supports
the Commissioner's findings and inferences. Garner v.
Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). In fact,
even if the evidence could also support a different
conclusion, the decision of the ALJ must stand if substantial
evidence supports the conclusion reached. Her, 203
F.3d at 389, citing Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270,
273 (6th Cir. 1997). If the Commissioner did not consider the
record as a whole, however, the Commissioner's conclusion
is undermined. Hurst v. Sec 'y of Health & Human
Servs., 753 F.2d 517, 519 (6th Cir. 1985), citing
Allen v. Califano, 613 F.2d 139, 145 (6th Cir. 1980).
reviewing the decisions of the Commissioner, courts look to
four types of evidence: (1) objective medical findings
regarding Plaintiffs condition; (2) diagnoses and opinions of
medical experts; (3) subjective evidence of Plaintiff s
condition; and (4) Plaintiffs age, education, and work
experience. Miracle v. Celebrezze, 351 F.2d 361, 374
(6th Cir. 1965).
Proceedings at the Administrative Level
claimant carries the ultimate burden to establish an
entitlement to benefits by proving his or her "inability
to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of
any medically determinable physical or mental impairment
which can be expected to last for a continuous period of not
less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
"Substantial gainful activity" not only includes
previous work performed by Plaintiff, but also, considering
Plaintiffs age, education, and work experience, any other
relevant work that exists in the national economy in
significant numbers regardless of whether such work exists in
the immediate area in which Plaintiff lives, or whether a
specific job vacancy exists, or whether Plaintiff would be
hired if he or she applied. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).
administrative level of review, the claimant's case is
considered under a five-step sequential evaluation process
summarized as follows:
(1) If the claimant is working and the work constitutes
substantial gainful activity, benefits are automatically
(2) If the claimant is not found to have an impairment which
significantly limits his or her ability to work (a
"severe" impairment), then he or she is not
(3) If the claimant is not working and has a severe
impairment, it must be determined whether he or she suffers
from one of the "listed" impairments or its
equivalent.If a listing is met or equaled, benefits
are owing without further inquiry.
(4) If the claimant does not suffer from any listing4evel
impairments, it must be determined whether the claimant can
return to the job he or she previously held in light of his
or her residual functional capacity (e.g., what the claimant
can still do despite his or her limitations). By showing a
medical condition that prevents him or her from returning to
such past relevant work, the claimant establishes a prima
facie case of disability.
(5) The burden then shifts to the Commissioner to establish
the claimant's ability to work by proving the existence
of a significant number of jobs in the national economy which
the claimant could perform, given his or her age, experience,
and residual functional capacity.
See, e.g., 20 CFR §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
see also Moon v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 1175, 1181 (6th
Commissioner's burden at the fifth step of the evaluation
process can be satisfied by relying on the medical-vocational
guidelines, otherwise known as "the grid, " but
only if the claimant is not significantly limited by a
nonexertional impairment, and then only when the
claimant's characteristics identically match the
characteristics of the applicable grid rule. Moon,
923 F.2d at 1181; 20 CFR § 404, Subpt. P, App. 2, Rule
200.00(e)(1), (2). See also Damron v. Sec 'y of
Health & Human Servs., 778 F.2d 279, 281-82 (6th
Cir. 1985). Otherwise, the grid cannot be used to direct a
conclusion, but only as a guide to the disability
determination. Id. In such cases where the grid does
not direct a conclusion as to the claimant's disability,
the Commissioner must rebut the claimant's prima facie
case by coming forward with particularized proof of the
claimant's individual vocational qualifications to
perform specific jobs, which is typically obtained through
vocational expert testimony. See Varley v. Sec 'y of
Health & Human Servs., 820 F.2d 777, 779 (6th Cir.
determining residual functional capacity for purposes of the
analysis required at stages four and five above, the
Commissioner is required to consider the combined effect of
all the claimant's impairments: mental and physical,
exertional and nonexertional, severe and nonsevere.
See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(B).
Plaintiffs Statement of Errors
contends that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to properly
consider and weigh the opinion evidence; (2) finding that
Plaintiffs statements concerning the intensity, persistence
and limiting effects of his symptoms were not entirely
credible, specifically failing to appropriately address
Plaintiffs complaints of pain and mental restrictions; (3)
improperly determining that Plaintiff has the residual
functional capacity to perform light work, disregarding the
limiting effects of Plaintiff s pain and the Global
Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") scores assigned
by Plaintiff s mental health care provider. Docket No. 17, p.
17-22. Accordingly, Plaintiff has moved the Court for a
judgment based upon the administrative record. Docket No.
four of § 405(g) states as follows:
The court shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and
transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or
reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security, with or ...