United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
A. TRAUGER, United States District Judge
Shelia Staples brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §
1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of the Social Security
Commissioner's denial of her application for Supplemental
Security Insurance (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act. SSI is available to individuals who
qualify as “disabled” within the meaning of 42
U.S.C. § 1382.
January 23, 2017, the magistrate judge issued a Report and
Recommendation (“R&R”) (Doc. No. 25),
recommending that the plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on
the Administrative Record (Doc. No. 20) be denied and that
the decision of the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) be affirmed. The plaintiff has filed
timely Objections. (Doc. No. 32.) For the reasons discussed
herein, the court will overrule the Objections, accept the
R&R, and deny the plaintiff's motion.
plaintiff filed her application for SSI on June 10, 2010,
with a protective filing date of April 18, 2010, claiming
that she has been disabled since January 10, 1990.
(See Administrative Record (AR) 142,  Doc. No. 12.) She
later amended the onset date to April 18, 2010. (AR 154.) Her
application alleges that she is disabled due to back
injuries, seizure disorder, high blood pressure, depression
and anxiety. (AR 189.)
denied the application initially and upon reconsideration.
(AR 66-67, 68.) The plaintiff requested and received a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), which was conducted on April 13, 2012.
(AR 30-65.) The plaintiff and a vocational expert
(“VE”) appeared and testified at the hearing.
issued a decision unfavorable to the plaintiff on May 21,
2012, finding that the plaintiff was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act and Regulations. (AR
10-24.) The ALJ made the following specific findings:
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since April 18, 2010, the alleged onset date (20 CFR
416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
lumbago; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine;
insomnia; joint pain of the leg; hypertension; seizure
disorder; headaches; reflux; cognitive disorder; major
depressive disorder; bipolar; anxiety; adjustment disorder
with anxiety; and depressed mood (20 CFR 416.920(c)). . . .
3. 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 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926). . . .
4. 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 416.967(b) except the claimant must avoid exposure to
hazards. The claimant is further able to understand, remember
and carry out simple instructions and is able to adapt to
gradual and infrequent changes in the workplace. . . .
5. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work
as a gluer. This work does not require the performance of
work-related activities precluded by the claimant's
residual functional capacity (20 CFR 416.965). . . .
Although the claimant is capable of performing past relevant
work, there are other jobs existing in the national economy
that she is also able to perform. Therefore, the
Administrative Law Judge makes the following alternative
findings for step five of the sequential evaluation process.
The claimant was born on October 22, 1969 and was 40 years
old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on
the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.963). The
claimant has limited education and is able to communicate in
English (20 CFR 416.964). Transferability of job skills is
not an issue in this case because the claimant's past
relevant work is unskilled (20 CFR 416.968).
In the alternative, considering the claimant's age,
education, work experience, and residual functional capacity,
there are other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy that the claimant can also perform (20 CFR
416.969 and 416.969(a)).
6. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, since April 18, 2010, the date
the application was filed (20 CFR 416.920(f)).
Appeals Council declined review of the case (AR 1), thus
rendering the ALJ's decision the “final
decision” of the Commissioner.
plaintiff filed her Complaint initiating this action on
September 20, 2013. (Doc. No. 1.) The SSA filed a timely
Answer (Doc. No. 11), denying liability, and a complete copy
of the Administrative Record (Doc. No. 12). On May 20, 2014,
the plaintiff filed her Motion for Judgment on the
Administrative Record (Doc. No. 20), which the SSA opposed
(Doc. No. 22). On January 23, 2017, the magistrate judge
issued his R&R (Doc. No. 25), recommending that the
plaintiff's motion be denied and that the SSA's
decision be affirmed.
plaintiff, after having been granted several extensions of
the deadline, filed Objections to the R&R (Doc. No. 32);
the SSA has filed a Response in opposition to the Objections
(Doc. No. 33).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
magistrate judge issues a report and recommendation regarding
a dispositive pretrial matter, the district court must review
de novo any portion of the report and recommendation
to which a proper objection is made. Fed.R.Civ.P.
72(b)(1)(C); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); United States
v. Curtis, 237 F.3d 598, 603 (6th Cir. 2001); Massey
v. City of Ferndale, 7 F.3d 506, 510 (6th Cir. 1993).
Objections must be specific; a general objection to the
R&R is not sufficient and may result in waiver of further
review. Miller v. Currie, 50 F.3d 373, 380 (6th Cir.
1995). In conducting its review of the objections, the
district court “may accept, reject, or modify the
recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return
the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.”
Social Security cases under Title XVI, like those under Title
II, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and,
as such, entitled to benefits. 42 U.S.C. §§
1383(c), 405(h). The court's review of an ALJ's
decision is limited to a determination of whether the ALJ
applied the correct legal standards and whether the findings
of the ALJ are supported by substantial evidence. Miller
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 811 F.3d 825, 833 (6th Cir.
2016) (quoting Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
581 F.3d 399, 405 (6th Cir. 2009)). The substantial evidence
standard is met if a “reasonable mind might accept the
relevant evidence as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390
(6th Cir. 2004) (internal citations omitted). “The
substantial evidence standard . . . presupposes that there is
a zone of choice within which the decision makers can go
either way, without interference by the courts.”
Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399,
406 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Mullen v. Bowen, 800
F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986)). “Therefore, if
substantial evidence supports an ALJ's decision, the
court defers to that finding, ‘even if there is
substantial evidence in the record that would have supported
an opposite conclusion.'” Id. (quoting
Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997)).
plaintiff's specific objections to the R&R are as
magistrate judge improperly employed a “post hoc
rationale” (Doc. No. 32, at 1) in concluding that
the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial
magistrate judge erred in accepting the ALJ's
determination that the plaintiff had engaged in past relevant
work as a “gluer” in 2000.
magistrate judge erred in accepting the ALJ's adoption of
only a part of psychologist Terry Edwards' opinion in
making his decision regarding the plaintiff's residual
functional capacity, when the ALJ had announced that he was
assigning “considerable weight” and
“incorporating” Edwards' opinion into the
ALJ's finding regarding the plaintiff's functional
ALJ erred in failing to consider whether the plaintiff's
failure to obtain more medical treatment resulted ...