United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee
ROBERT M. CAMPBELL, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
A. VARLAN CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
civil matter is before the Court on plaintiffs Motion for
Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. 14] and defendant Nancy A.
Berryhill's, Acting Commissioner of Social Security
("the Commissioner") Motion for Summary Judgment
[Doc. 16]. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the
Commissioner's motion [Doc. 18]. Plaintiff seeks judicial
review of the Administrative Law Judge's ("the
ALJ") decision-which constitutes the final decision of
the Commissioner. For the reasons that follow, the Court will
grant in part and deny in part plaintiffs motion, and will
deny the Commissioner's motion.
November 7, 2008, plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and
supplemental security income ("SSI"), claiming a
period of disability beginning January 1, 2008 [Tr. 80,
340-52]. After his application was initially denied,
plaintiff requested a hearing for reconsideration. [Tr. 218].
On May 11, 2010, the ALJ held a hearing to review the
determination of plaintiff's claim [Tr. 46-75]. On May
28, 2010, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled [Tr.
149-65]. The Appeals Council granted plaintiff's request
for review, and on July 7, 2011, the Council remanded the
case for a new hearing [Tr. 166]. On March 19, 2012, the ALJ
held a second hearing [Tr. 76-119]. The ALJ again issued an
unfavorable decision on April 24, 2012 [Tr. 171- 93].
Plaintiff again requested a review and the Appeals Council
again granted the request, remanding the case for further
review [Tr. 194]. On May 16, 2014, a third hearing was held
before a different ALJ [Tr. 120-44]. The new ALJ rendered an
unfavorable decision on June 16, 2014 [Tr. 20-45], and the
Appeals Council declined review [Tr. 1-6]. Thus, the third
ALJ decision became the Commissioner's final decision.
exhausted his administrative remedies, plaintiff filed a
complaint with this Court on December 11, 2015, seeking
judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision
under § 405(g) of the Social Security Act [Doc. 1]. The
parties have filed competing dispositive motions, and this
matter is now ripe for adjudication.
The ALJ's Findings
made the following findings:
claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act through December 31, 2012.
claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since January 1, 2008, the alleged onset date (20 CFR
404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
claimant has the following severe impairments: scoliosis and
small posterior osteophytes of the thoracic spine; kyphotic
deformity at the level of C5-6 and midline disk bulge or disk
protrusion with intervertebral neural foramina narrowing and
spinal stenosis at the level of C5-6 and C6; degenerative
disc disease of the lumbar spine with disc herniations and
mild central canal stenosis; degenerative joint disease;
tendinosis of the right rotator cuff tendon; peripheral
neuropathy; reversal of the cervical curve and disc bulges
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with disc
protrusion; a respiratory disorder; Anxiety Disorder NOS,
moderate; Affective Disorder NOS; Depressive Disorder NOS,
mild to moderate; ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder); and Bipolar Disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and
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).
After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in
20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except that he is limited
to occasional climbing or ramps and stairs; occasional
balancing, stooping kneeling, crouching, and crawling; no
more than occasional overhead reaching with the right arm; no
concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants or hazards; and
no climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant is
able to perform and maintain concentration for simple,
routine, repetitive tasks and perform work that requires no
more than occasional interaction with the public.
claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR
404.1565 and 416.965).
claimant was born on April 29, 1975 and was 32 years old,
which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the
alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
claimant has at least a high school education and is able to
communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using Medical-Vocational
Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is
“not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has
transferable skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 2).
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, 44.1569(a),
416.969, and 416.969(a)).
claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, from January 1, 2008, through the date
of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g), and 416.920(g)) [Tr.
Standard of Review
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. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390
(6th Cir. 2004). 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.” Cutlip v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286
(6th Cir. 1994) (citing Kirk v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 535 (6th Cir. 1981))
(internal citations omitted).
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 the evidence, nor decide questions of credibility.”
Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984)
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 and rulings promulgated by the
Commissioner. See Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004).
review, the plaintiff “bears the burden of proving his
entitlement to benefits.” Boyes v. Sec'y. of
Health & Human Servs., 46 F.3d 510, 512 (6th Cir.
1994) (citing Halsey v. Richardson, 441 F.2d 1230
(6th Cir. 1971)).
asserts that the ALJ committed three errors in determining
plaintiff's claim. First, plaintiff argues that the ALJ
failed to properly evaluate a “Physical Capacities
Evaluation” (“physical assessment”) from
plaintiff's treating medical providers, Dr. Neil Barry
and Ms. Jami England, ARNP [Doc. 8 pp. 6-10]. Second,
plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in assessing Dr. Robert
Blaine's 2009 and 2011 opinions [Id. at 10-16].
Lastly, plaintiff contends that the ALJ unfairly focused on
the lack of additional medical treatment plaintiff ...