United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division
ORDER AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE
DANIEL BREEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Introduction and Procedural Background
the Court is the Social Security claim of Plaintiff, Patricia
Ann Ward, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking
judicial review of the final decision of Nancy A. Berryhill,
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”),
denying her claim for disability insurance benefits. On March
29, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period
of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging a
disability onset date of January 5, 2013. (Docket Entry
(“D.E.”) 13-3 at PageID 47.) Her claim was
initially denied on June 27, 2013, and again on August 26,
2013, following reconsideration. (Id.) On September
10, 2013, Ward requested a hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”), which was conducted on
November 12, 2014. (Id.) The ALJ, Marty S. Turner,
issued an unfavorable decision on December 4, 2014.
(Id.) Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision, and
that ruling became the final decision of the Commissioner
when the Appeals Council denied Claimant's appeal on
April 21, 2016. (Id. at PageID 37). She later timely
filed this action seeking the Court's review of the
ALJ's decision. (D.E. 1.)
Standard of Review
federal court's review of the Social Security
Administration's denial of a claim for benefits “is
limited to determining whether it is supported by substantial
evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal
standards.” Gentry v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
741 F.3d 708, 722 (6th Cir. 2014). “Substantial
evidence requires more than a mere scintilla but less than a
preponderance; substantial evidence is such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Miller v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 811 F.3d 825, 833 (6th Cir. 2016) (internal
quotation marks omitted). “If substantial evidence
supports the ALJ's decision, then reversal is unwarranted
even if substantial evidence backs the opposite
conclusion.” Turk v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
647 F. App'x 638, 639 (6th Cir. 2016) (citing Bass v.
McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007)).
establish eligibility for disability benefits, an applicant
must show an inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity resulting from a long-lasting impairment. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1382c(a)(3)(A) & 423(d)(1)(A); Taskila
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 819 F.3d 902, 903 (6th Cir.
2016). The Social Security Act (the “Act”) places
the burden of establishing entitlement to benefits on a
claimant. Oliver v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 415 F.
App'x 681, 682 (6th Cir. 2011). Thus, a claimant bears
the burden of proving that she has a disability within the
meaning of the Act. Siebert v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 105 F. App'x 744, 746 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing
Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525,
529 (6th Cir. 1997)). If a claimant meets this burden, the
Commissioner is charged with demonstrating that employment is
available despite her disability and background. Born v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 923 F.2d 1168,
1173 (6th Cir. 1990). The Social Security Administration
employs a five-step sequential inquiry when processing
applications for disability benefits:
(1) Does the claimant show she is not engaged in substantial
gainful activity? (2) Does the claimant have a severe
impairment? (3) Does the impairment meet any one of the items
on a list of impairments presumed severe enough to render one
disabled? (4) Can the claimant perform her past jobs? (5) Can
the claimant perform other jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy?
Taskila, 819 F.3d at 903 (internal quotation marks
The Administrative Decision
December 4, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision denying
Ward's application for disability insurance benefits.
(D.E. 13-3 at PageID 47.) ALJ Turner determined that Claimant
met the insured status requirements of the SSA and that she
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the
alleged onset date, January 5, 2013. (Id. at PageID
49.) He further found that her regional pain syndrome
(“RPS”) and prior arthropathies were severe
impairments within the meaning of 20 C.F.R. 404.1520(c).
(Id.) However, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff's impairments were not severe enough to
“meet or medically equal the criteria of an impairment
listed in 20 C.F.R Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.”
(Id.) Next, ALJ Turner assessed that Ward had the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
light work, with limitations of lifting one pound with her
non-dominant upper extremity. (Id. at PageID 49-50.)
He further found that she could not push/pull or handle or
finger with her non-dominant upper extremity but that she
could use it for guidance. (Id. at PageID 50.) Based
on these findings, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was
unable to perform her past relevant work, which included jobs
as a sitter, cook, data entry clerk, and nurse assistant.
(Id. at PageID 52.)
then considered whether there were significant jobs in the
national economy that Claimant could perform. (D.E. 13-3 at
PageID 52.) In making this determination, ALJ Turner
consulted a vocational expert (“VE”). The judge
asked the VE whether, in light of Ward's RFC as well as
her age, education, and past work experience, there were
“jobs in the national economy that [Claimant] could
perform.” (Id. at PageID 73.) In response, the
VE stated that Ward could perform the work of a gate guard,
with 5, 000 jobs nationwide and 1, 000 in Tennessee; survey
worker, with 205, 000 jobs nationwide and 800 in Tennessee;
and mail clerk, with 120, 000 jobs nationwide and 700 in
Tennessee. (Id. at PageID 73-75.) The ALJ concluded
that “considering the claimant's age, education,
work experience, and residual functional capacity, the
claimant [was] capable of making a successful adjustment to
other work that exists in significant numbers in the national
economy.” (Id. at PageID 53.) Accordingly, the
judge made a finding that Plaintiff was not disabled.
present action, Ward contends that the ALJ erred in
concluding that the jobs of gate guard, mail clerk, or survey
worker exist in significant numbers in the national economy.
Under the Regulations, “work exists in the national
economy when it exists in significant numbers either in the
region where [the claimant] live[s] or in several other
regions of the country.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1566(a).
There is no bright line boundary separating a
“significant number” from insignificant numbers
of jobs. Hall v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 272, 275 (6th Cir.
1988). What constitutes a significant number of jobs is to be
determined on a case-by-case basis. Id. In making
its determination, the court should consider “the level
of claimant's disability; the reliability of the
[VE's] testimony; the reliability of the claimant's
testimony; the distance claimant is capable of travelling to
engage in the assigned work; the isolated nature of the jobs;
the types and availability of such work; and so on.”
Id.; see also Born, 923 F.2d at 1174. These
factors are suggestions only; the ALJ is not required to
explicitly consider each factor. Harmon v.
Apfel, 168 F.3d 289, 292 (6th Cir. 1999). “The
decision should ultimately be left to the trial judge's
common sense in weighing the statutory language as applied to
a particular claimant's factual situation.”
Hall, 837 F.2d at 275.
there is testimony that a significant number of jobs exists
for which a claimant is qualified, it is immaterial that this
number is a small percentage of the total number of jobs in a
given area.” Hall, 837 F.2d at 275. The
Regulations state that “[i]t does not matter whether .
. . (1) [w]ork exists in the immediate area in which you
live; (2) [a] specific job vacancy exists for [the claimant];
or (3) [the claimant] would be hired if [she] applied for
work.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.966(a). “The Act, its
legislative history and the ...