United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION TO THE HONORABLE WAVERLY D.
CRENSHAW, JR., CHIEF JUDGE
KING, MAGISTRATE JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
filed a complaint seeking judicial review, pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g), of the final decision of the
Commissioner denying his claim for Social Security disability
benefits. Docket 1. The Commissioner filed an electronic copy
of the administrative record. Docket 10. Plaintiff filed his
First Motion for Judgment on the Record, along with a
supporting memorandum of law. Dockets 14 and 15. The
Commissioner responded in opposition to Plaintiff's
motion. Docket 16. The matter is ripe for determination.
19, 2017, the Court referred the matter to the undersigned
Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 631 and
636 and Administrative Order No. 24. Section 631 authorizes
designation of magistrate judges to serve in districts
adjoining the district for which they were appointed.
Administrative Order No. 24 was entered on June 12, 2017, and
signed by the Chief Judges for the Middle District of
Tennessee and the Western District of Kentucky. Section 636
authorizes magistrate judges to submit reports and
recommendations to district judges on any case-dispositive
discussed below, the administrative law judge's (ALJs)
decision gave little weight to the treating physician's
medical opinion and great weight to the opinion of the
non-examining state-agency physician. The treating
physician's opinion was based on the findings of a lumbar
MRI, which neither the ALJs decision nor the non-examining
the ALJs weighing of the medical opinions was not supported
by substantial evidence and was not in accord with applicable
legal standards, the RECOMMENDATION will be to GRANT
Plaintiff's First Motion for Judgment on the Record
(Docket 14) and REMAND this matter to the Commissioner for a
new decision identifying good reasons for the weight given to
the treating physician's opinion.
ALJs decision in light of the sequential evaluation process
2011, Plaintiff filed applications for Social Security
disability benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social
Security Act (disability insurance benefits) and Title XVI
(supplemental security income benefits). Plaintiff initially
alleged that he became disabled on January 1, 2007; however,
he amended his alleged onset date at the administrative
hearing to August 10, 2009. Administrative Record (AR),
Docket 10, p. 36.
claims were denied by the state agency initially and upon
requested an ALJ hearing, which was held in May 2013. The
transcript of the hearing is at AR, pp. 33-58.
August 2013, ALJ Renee S. Andrews-Turner issued a written
decision denying Plaintiff's claims. AR, pp. 15-27.
April 2015, the ALJs decision became the Commissioner's
final decision, which is the subject of the present judicial
review, when the Appeals Council declined to disturb the ALJs
decision. AR, pp. 1-3.
found that Plaintiff is not disabled through the date of
decision because, although he can no longer perform his past
relevant work, he retains the ability to perform other jobs,
which exist in significant numbers in the national economy.
ALJs decision, AR, pp. 19 and 25.
ALJs decision was pursuant to the 5-step sequential
evaluation process utilized by the Commissioner in evaluating
all Social Security disability claims.
1 of the evaluation process, a claimant is not disabled if he
engages in substantial gainful activity. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff "has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since January 1, 2007, the alleged onset date."
ALJs decision, AR, p. 17.
2, a claimant must have a severe impairment (i.e., one having
a vocationally-significant impact on ability to engage in
basic work activities) in order to be disabled. The ALJ found
that Plaintiff "has the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, residuals of
the left ankle fracture, depressive disorder and borderline
intellectual functioning." AR, p. 17.
3, a claimant is entitled to a conclusive presumption of
disability if he suffers from an impairment satisfying the
medical criteria of an impairment listed in Appendix 1 of the
regulations. The ALJ found that Plaintiff "does not have
an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments." AR, p. 18.
4, a claimant is not disabled if he can perform his past
relevant work. The ALJ found that Plaintiff "is unable
to perform any past relevant work." AR, p. 25.
5, the Commissioner must (as a threshold matter) determine
the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC). The
ALJ found that Plaintiff "has the [RFC] to perform light
work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) in that
he can lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and ten
pounds frequently; stand and/or walk for six hour in an
eight-hour workday; sit for six hours in an eight-hour
workday; frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and
climb stairs and ramps; never climb ladders, ropes, and
scaffolds; frequently push and pull with the left lower
extremity and can have occasional exposure to wetness. He
should avoid all exposure to hazards. He can understand and
remember simple instructions; maintain concentration for at
least two hours at a time during an eight-hour workday;
occasionally interact with the general public, coworkers and
supervisors; and can adapt to infrequent change in the
workplace." AR, p. 19.
the Commissioner must determine the claimant's age and
education. The ALJ found that Plaintiff "was born on
October 14, 1964 and was 42 years old, which is defined as a
younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset
date" and that he "has a limited education and is
able to communicate in English." AR, pp. 25-26.
requires the Commissioner to determine, in light of the
claimant's RFC, age, education, and prior work
experience, whether he retains the ability to perform other
(than past relevant work) jobs, which exist in significant
numbers in the national economy. The ALJ found that
"[c]onsidering 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." AR, p. 26. The
determination was based on hypothetical questions presented
to a vocational expert at the administrative hearing. The
vocational testimony is at AR, pp. 51-58.
arguments in light of the standards governing judicial review
presents four arguments upon judicial review in his
memorandum in support of First Motion for Judgment on the
Record. Docket 15, p. 1. The arguments are:
1. The ALJ erred by failing to properly consider and weigh
the opinion from the treating physician, Winston Griner, M.D.
2. The ALJ erred by failing to properly incorporate the
opinion from the one-time joint consultative examination of
psychologists Marie LaVasque, M.S. / M.A., and Susan Vaught,
3. The ALJ erred by failing to perform a proper credibility
4. The ALJ erred by failing to properly consider all severe
impairments. Claims 1, 2, and 3 concern the ALJs fifth-step
determination of Plaintiff's RFC.
1 and 2 are premised on the ALJs application of the rules for
weighing medical opinions at 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1527(c) and 416.927(c). The rules generally require that,
in determining a claimant's RFC, more weight be assigned
to the opinion of a treating source than an examining source