United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Northeastern Division
A. TRAUGER, U.S. District Judge
before the court is the Plaintiff's Motion For Judgment
On The Administrative Record (Docket No. 15), and the
Defendant's Response (Docket No. 17) in opposition. For
the reasons set forth herein, the Plaintiff's Motion is
DENIED, and the decision of the Social Security
Administration is AFFIRMED.
appeal arises out of the Plaintiff's June 2011
application for supplemental security income under the Social
Security Act that was denied by the Social Security
Administration. (Administrative Record (“AR”), at
68, 168 (Docket No. 11)). The Plaintiff had filed a previous
application for benefits, which was heard by an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on May 11, 2010,
and denied in a decision issued on June 23, 2010.
(Id., at 68, 111-117). In reaching his decision, the
ALJ found that the Plaintiff had the severe impairments of
“surgery for a fractured hip and chronic back pain,
” and was limited to the following residual functional
capacity (“RFC”): light work except that he could
stand/walk for four hours of an eight-hour workday with
normal breaks, but was precluded from all climbing of ramps,
ropes and ladders, and must avoid all work hazards, such as
moving machinery and heights. (Id., at 68, 113). The
ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff could perform the jobs of
production inspector, hand packager, and production laborer.
(Id., at 68, 117). The Plaintiff did not appeal.
(Id., at 68).
regard to the June 2011 application, after receiving initial
denials of the application, the Plaintiff requested a
hearing, which was held by another ALJ on March 4, 2013.
(Id., at 68, 80-107, 136). The Plaintiff appeared at
the hearing with counsel, and testified in support of his
issued a written decision on May 13, 2013, finding that
although the Plaintiff's condition was not materially
changed since the previous decision, the Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity limited him to unskilled
sedentary work. (Id., at 68). Nevertheless, the ALJ
concluded, the Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id.) In
reaching his decision, the ALJ made the following specific
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since June 13, 2011, the application date (20 CFR
416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: history
of surgery for fractured hip and chronic back pain (20 CFR
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 the full range of sedentary
work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a).
5. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 CFR 416.965).
6. The claimant was born on July 4, 1967 and was 43 years
old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on
the date the application was filed. The claimant subsequently
changed age category to a younger individual age 45-49 (20
7. The claimant has a limited education and is able to
communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).
8. Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because applying the
Medical-Vocational Rules directly supports a finding of
‘not disabled, ' whether or not the claimant has
transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 2).
9. 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 416.969, and
10. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, since June 13, 2011, the date the
application was filed (20 CFR 416.920(g)).
(AR, at 70-74).
Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review
of the ALJ decision (AR, at 1-7), which became the final
decision of the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”). Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103,
107, 120 S.Ct. 2080, 2083, 147 L.Ed.2d 80 (2000). This
action, seeking review of that decision, has been timely
filed, and the Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) to adjudicate it.
The ALJ Hearing
hearing before the ALJ, the Plaintiff testified that he was
45 years old and had dropped out of school in the eleventh
grade. (AR, at 83). The Plaintiff further testified that he
was divorced and had lived with his mother and father since
2007. (Id., at 83). According to the Plaintiff, his
father was bedridden and his mother was a cancer survivor
with back problems. (Id., at 84). The Plaintiff
testified that he was a smoker, but had reduced his smoking
to four cigarettes a day. (Id., at 85). The
Plaintiff described his past occupation as a laborer in the
home construction industry. (Id., at 86-87).
to the Plaintiff, his most serious medical problem was his
back, then his right hip, and then his left shoulder.
(Id., at 87-88). The Plaintiff testified that he
also suffered from depression, which he said bothered him
more than his shoulder and hip. (Id.) In describing
his back problem, the Plaintiff testified that he was in
constant pain, but that the degree of pain varies.
(Id., at 90). When his back pain is bad, the
Plaintiff testified, he stays in the bed all day.
(Id., at 90-91). The Plaintiff rated his pain on a
scale of zero to ten, increasing in severity, as an eight on
a bad day and a three or four on a good day. (Id.,
Plaintiff described the accidents in which he had been
involved, including an accident that occurred on April 10,
2006 in which his hip was injured when the horse he was
riding was struck by a truck. (Id., at 91-92). As a
result of that accident, the Plaintiff testified, he could no
longer perform the construction work he had performed prior
to the accident. (Id., at 92-93). The Plaintiff
testified that he still suffered from hip pain, which he
rated as a six or seven on a scale of zero to ten.
(Id., at 93).
to the Plaintiff, his shoulder pain began approximately one
year prior to the hearing. (Id., at 93). The
Plaintiff testified that his shoulder pain occurs about once
a month, generally lasting a few days, and that the pain can
reach an eight on the ten-point scale. (Id., at 94).
his mental condition, the Plaintiff indicated that he began
going to the Plateau Mental Health Center in October 2010
because he was suffering from depression. (Id., at
95-96). The Plaintiff testified that he tried to commit
suicide a year or so after his accident but could not go
through with it. (Id., at 96). Although he was given
medications by the doctors at Plateau, the Plaintiff
explained, the medications made him sick and did not help.
(Id.) After a few months, the Plaintiff said he
began to see care providers at Personal Growth and Learning
Center. (Id., at 96-97). Those care providers
focused more on talking to him rather than using drugs, the
Plaintiff testified, and he preferred that approach.
(Id., at 97). The Plaintiff indicated that he had
been taking Seroquel, which was prescribed by Personal Growth
providers to help him sleep. (Id.) The Plaintiff
explained that he did not want a medication that would knock
him out because he needed to be able to hear his father in
case he was needed during the night. (Id.) Although
he helped out with his father, the Plaintiff testified, he
was limited in that regard by his back pain. (Id.)
Plaintiff then discussed his difficulties with academics as a
child and his bouts of depression. (Id., at 99). The
Plaintiff explained that the depression led him to cut
himself as a child, and that he had cut himself within the
last six months. (Id., at 99). The Plaintiff also
described difficulties with his mind racing, his lack of
appetite, crying practically every day, and being around
other people. (Id., at 99-101). The Plaintiff did
describe occasional visits with his neighbors. (Id.,
at 101). In addition, to his back, hip, shoulder, and
depression, the Plaintiff testified that his left hand
occasionally cramps. (Id., at 102).
Plaintiff testified that he occasionally helped with
housework, such as doing the dishes, feeding his father or
vacuuming the house, but had not been able to do yard work
since the summer of 2012. (Id., at 103). According
to the Plaintiff, his ability to sit and stand varies from
day to day, and estimated that on some days, he could sit for
45 minutes to an hour without pain. (Id., at
103-104). The Plaintiff testified that he could walk, on a
good day, for about 15 minutes, albeit with a limp.
(Id., at 104-05). For the last several months, the
Plaintiff said, he had been lying down most of the day.
(Id., at 105).
Standard of Review
court's review of the SSA decision to deny benefits is
“‘limited to determining whether the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal
standards.'” 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, 405-06 (6th Cir. 2009)).
“Substantial evidence” constitutes
“‘more than a scintilla' but less than a
preponderance” and is “such ‘relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.'” Id. (quoting
Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th
Cir. 2001)). In making that determination, the court is to
examine the evidence in the record as a whole and
“‘take into account whatever in the record fairly
detracts from its weight.'” Conner v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 658 F. App'x 248, 253
(6th Cir. 2016)(quoting Abbott v.
Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990)).
If the court finds substantial evidence to support the
decision, it must affirm and “may not inquire whether
the record could support a different decision.”
Id. The court may not resolve conflicts in evidence
or decide questions of credibility. Id.; Ulman v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 693 F.3d 709, 713
(6th Cir. 2012). If the ALJ fails to follow agency
rules and regulations, however, his or her decision is not
supported by substantial evidence, even if the ALJ's
conclusion may be justified based upon the record.
Miller, 811 F.3d at 833.
The Five-Step Analysis
Social Security Act defines “disability” as 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). A “physical or mental impairment”
is defined as “an impairment that results from
anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities
which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §
determining whether the claimant is disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act, the ALJ is to apply a
five-step sequential analysis set forth in the applicable
regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a);
416.920; Kepke v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 636 F.
App'x 625, 627-28 (6thCir. 2016). “If
the claimant is found to be conclusively disabled or not
disabled at any step, the inquiry ends at that step.”
Id., at ...