United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
KIANA L. SMITH,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
BARBARA D.HOLMES United States Magistrate Judge.
filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g)
and 1383(c)(3) to obtain judicial review of the final
decision of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's claim
for a period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”), and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”), as provided under Title II and Title XVI
of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). The case
is currently pending on Plaintiff's motion for judgment
on the administrative record (Docket Entry No. 12), to which
Defendant has responded (Docket Entry No. 13). Plaintiff has
also filed a subsequent reply to Defendant's response
(Docket Entry No. 16). This action is before the undersigned
for all further proceedings pursuant to the consent of the
parties and referral of the District Judge in accordance with
28 U.S.C. § 636(c) (Docket Entry No. 21).
review of the administrative record as a whole and
consideration of the parties' filings, Plaintiff's
motion is DENIED, and the decision of the Commissioner is
filed applications for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI
on July 7, 2009. See Transcript of the
Administrative Record (Docket Entry No. 10) at
55-58. She alleged a disability onset date of May
28, 2009. AR 13, 33. Plaintiff asserted that she was unable
to work because of left knee pain. AR 55-58.
applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration.
AR 55-62. Upon her request for a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), Plaintiff
appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before ALJ
Brian Dougherty on August 12, 2011. AR 28. On September 9,
2011, the ALJ denied the claim. AR 10-12. On December 21,
2012, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review of the ALJ's decision (AR 1-3), thereby making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
This civil action was thereafter timely filed and the Court
has jurisdiction. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
issued an unfavorable decision on September 9, 2011. AR 10.
Based upon the record, the ALJ made the following enumerated
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 May 28, 2009, the alleged onset date (20 CFR
404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: chronic
degenerative changes in the left knee and bipolar 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 lift and/or carry 20 pounds
occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand and/or walk less
than 2 hours out of 8 hours; sit 8 hours out of 8 hours;
occasionally reach with the right upper extremity;
occasionally climb ramp/stairs; never climb ladders or
scaffolds, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; avoid
temperature extremes and vibrations; and tolerate occasional
exposure to pulmonary irritants. She requires a cane for
ambulation and cannot walk on uneven surfaces. She is
restricted to simple tasks, occasional interaction with
public, frequent interaction with supervisors and co-workers,
and changes should be infrequent and gradual.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant, born on October 29, 1977, was 31 years old,
which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the
alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has at least a high school (13 years)
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
82-41and 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 May 28, 2009, through the date of this decision (20
CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).
REVIEW OF THE RECORD
parties and the ALJ have thoroughly summarized and discussed
the medical and testimonial evidence of the administrative
record. Accordingly, the Court will therefore discuss those
matters only to the extent necessary to analyze the
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
Standard of Review
determination of disability under the Act is an
administrative decision. The only questions before this Court
upon judicial review are: (i) whether the decision of the
Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence; and (ii)
whether the Commissioner made legal errors in the process of
reaching the decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420,
28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (adopting and defining substantial
evidence standard in context of Social Security cases);
Kyle v. Comm'r Soc. Sec., 609 F.3d 847, 854 (6th
Cir. 2010). The Commissioner's decision must be affirmed
if it is supported by substantial evidence, “even if
there is substantial evidence in the record that would have
supported an opposite conclusion.” Blakley v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir.
2009) (quoting Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273
(6th Cir. 1997)); Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
336 F.3d 469, 477 (6th Cir. 2003); Her v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999).
evidence is defined as “more than a mere
scintilla” and “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401
(quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197,
229, 59 S.Ct. 206, 83 L.Ed. 126 (1938)); Rogers v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir.
2007); LeMaster v. Weinberger, 533 F.2d 337, 339
(6th Cir. 1976) (quoting Sixth Circuit opinions adopting
language substantially similar to that in
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
limited to the record made in the administrative hearing
process. Jones v. Secretary, 945 F.2d 1365, 1369
(6th Cir. 1991). A reviewing court may not try the case
de novo, resolve conflicts in evidence, or decide
questions of credibility. See, e.g., Garner v.
Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984) (citing
Myers v. Richardson, 471 F.2d 1265, 1268 (6th Cir.
1972)). The Court must accept the ALJ's explicit findings
and determination unless the record as a whole is without
substantial evidence to support the ALJ's determination.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See, e.g., Houston v. Sec'y
of Health & Human Servs., 736 F.2d 365, 366 (6th
Determining Disability at the Administrative Level
claimant has the ultimate burden of establishing an
entitlement to benefits by proving her “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
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 432(d)(1)(A). The asserted
impairment(s) must be demonstrated by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. See
42 U.S.C. §§ 432(d)(3) and 1382c(a)(3)(D); 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1512(a), (c), and 404.1513(d).
“Substantial gainful activity” not only includes
previous work performed by the claimant, but also,
considering the claimant's 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 the claimant
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists, or whether
the claimant would be hired if he applied. 42 U.S.C. §
proceedings before the Social Security Administration, the
Commissioner must employ a five-step, sequential evaluation
process in considering the issue of the claimant's
alleged disability. See Heston v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001); Abbot v.
Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990). First, the
claimant must show that she is not engaged in
“substantial gainful activity” at the time
disability benefits are sought. Cruse v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 502 F.3d 532, 539 (6th Cir. 2007); 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). Second, the claimant
must show that she suffers from a severe impairment that
meets the 12-month durational requirement. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). See
also Edwards v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 113 F.
App'x 83, 85 (6th Cir. 2004). Third, if the claimant has
satisfied the first two steps, the claimant is presumed
disabled without further inquiry, regardless of age,
education or work experience, if the impairment at issue
either appears on the regulatory list of impairments that are
sufficiently severe as to prevent any gainful employment or
equals a listed impairment. Combs v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 643 (6th ...