United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville
CLIFFORD SHIRLEY, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
case is before the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(b), Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,
the Rules of this Court, and the consent of the parties [Doc.
14]. Now before the Court is the Plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 15 and 16]
and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and
Memorandum in Support [Docs. 17 and 18]. Debra Levon Ceol
(“the Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the
decision of the Appeals Council's decision, the final
decision of the Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security (“the
March 28, 2014, the Plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), claiming a
period of disability which began February 6, 2014. [Tr.
175-79]. After her application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration, the Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”). [Tr. 125-26].
On October 15, 2014, a hearing was held before the ALJ to
review determination of the Plaintiff's claim. [Tr.
35-66]. On December 5, 2014, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff
was not disabled. [Tr. 18-30]. The Appeals Council granted
the Plaintiff's request for review. [Tr. 164-67].
Thereafter, the Appeals Council issued a decision on April
15, 2015, finding that the Plaintiff was not under a
disability. [Tr. 1-6]. The Appeals Council adopted the
ALJ's findings at steps one, two, and three, as well as
adopted the ALJ's findings regarding the Plaintiff's
subjective complaints and residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). [Tr. 5-6]. At step four, while the ALJ
found that the Plaintiff could not perform past relevant
work, the Appeals Council concluded that the combination of
the Plaintiff's impairments did not preclude the
performance of past relevant work, namely that of a military
clerk as it is generally performed. [Tr. 6]. Therefore, the
Appeals Council ended its analysis at step four of the
sequential evaluation, finding that the Plaintiff was not
disabled as defined in the Social Security Act.
[Id.]. The Appeals Council decision, became the
final decision of the Commissioner.
exhausted her administrative remedies, the Plaintiff filed a
Complaint with this Court on July 23, 2015, seeking judicial
review of the Commissioner's final decision under Section
405(g) of the Social Security Act. [Doc. 1]. The parties have
filed competing dispositive motions, and this matter is now
ripe for adjudication.
APPEALS COUNCIL/ALJ FINDINGS
the ALJ's findings through step three of the sequential
evaluation, as well as the RFC determination, the Appeal
Council's made the following findings:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2016.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since May 11, 2011, the alleged onset date (20 CFR
404.1571 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine and lumbar
spine, degenerative facet joint disease of the lumbar spine,
obesity, hypertension, degenerative joint disease of the
knee, mild pes planus deformity, and hearing loss (20 CFR
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 she can frequently climb ramps or
stairs; she can occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; she can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, or
crouch, she can occasionally crawl, she can tolerate noise
intensity of moderate level but should avoid situations
requiring excellent hearing; and she should avoid
concentrated exposure to workplace hazards, such as proximity
to moving mechanical parts or working in high exposed places.
6. The limitations on the claimant's ability to perform
work-related activities as set forth in [the ALJ's
Finding 5] do not preclude the performance of past relevant
work as military clerk as it is generally performed.
Therefore, the claimant's combination of impairments does
not preclude the performance of past relevant work (20 CFR
7. The claimant is not disabled as defined in the Social
Security Act at any time through the date of the
Administrative Law Judge's decision (December 5, 2014).
[Tr. 4-6, 23-28].
case involves an application for DIB. An individual qualifies
for DIB if he or she: (1) is insured for DIB; (2) has not
reached the age of retirement; (3) has filed an application
for DIB; and (4) is disabled. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1).
is the “inability 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 months.” §
423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). A claimant will
only be considered disabled 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. § 423(d)(2)(A); see 20 C.F.R. §
is evaluated pursuant to a five-step analysis summarized as
1. If claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, he is
2. If claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity, his
impairment must be severe before he can be found to be
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