United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga
LESLIE D. COFFEY Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
K. LEE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Leslie D. Coffey (“Plaintiff”) brought this
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) seeking
judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner” or
“Defendant”) denying his disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”). Each party moved for a judgment
[Docs. 16 & 18] with supporting briefs [Docs. 17 &
19]. This matter is now ripe. For the reasons stated below,
(1) Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings
shall be DENIED; (2) the Commissioner's
motion for summary judgment shall be
GRANTED; and (3) the decision of the
Commissioner shall be AFFIRMED.
agreed by the parties, and as reflected in the transcript of
the administrative proceedings [Doc. 12 (“Tr.”)],
Plaintiff filed for DIB on October 23, 2012, alleging
disability beginning August 1, 2012. After Plaintiff's
claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration, a
hearing on Plaintiff's claims was held before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) during which
Plaintiff was represented by counsel. The ALJ issued a
decision on March 13, 2015, finding that Plaintiff was not
under a “disability” as defined in the Social
Security Act (“Act”) (Tr. 10-23). The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
Plaintiff timely filed the instant action.
Education and Employment Background
documented in the ALJ's decision, Plaintiff was born
September 16, 1967 and on the date last insured was
47-years-old, which is defined as a younger individual age
18-49; had a work history that included work as a demolition
crane truck operator; had at least a high school education;
and was able to communicate in English (Tr. 22).
alleged disability due to a fractured back, ruptured discs,
depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder,
asthma, and acid reflux (Tr. 32, 171). The ALJ summarized
various medical records at issue, and both parties summarized
portions of the medical records in their respective briefs.
The summary of the records will not be repeated herein, but
all germane records concerning the physical limitations at
issue in this case have been reviewed.
January 15, 2015 hearing before the ALJ, Plaintiff and a
vocational expert (“VE”) testified. The
transcript of the testimony at the hearing (Tr. 29-48) has
been carefully reviewed.
ELIGIBILITY AND THE ALJ'S FINDINGS
Social Security Act defines a 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.'”
Schmiedebusch v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 536 F.
App'x 637, 646 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A)); see also Parks v. Soc. Sec. Admin.,
413 F. App'x 856, 862 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A)). A claimant is disabled “only if
his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such
severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work,
but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy.”
Parks, 413 F. App'x at 862 (quoting 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(2)(A)). The Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) determines eligibility for disability
benefits by following a five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The five-step process provides:
1) If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, the
claimant is not disabled.
2) If the claimant does not have a severe medically
determinable physical or mental impairment-i.e., an
impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities-the claimant is
3) If the claimant has a severe impairment(s) that meets or
equals one of the listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the
regulations and meets the duration requirement, the claimant
4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him or
her from doing his or her past relevant work, the claimant is
5) If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, the
claimant is not disabled.
Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647,
652 (6th Cir. 2009). The claimant bears the burden to show
the extent of his impairments, but at step five, the
Commissioner bears the burden to show that, notwithstanding
those impairments, there are jobs the claimant is capable of
performing. See Ealy v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 594
F.3d 504, 512-13 (6th Cir. 2010).
The ALJ's Findings
found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through
December 31, 2014 (Tr. 15). At step one of the process, the
ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in any substantial
gainful activity since August 1, 2012, the alleged onset date
(Tr. 15). At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease with
a history of compression fracture of the lumbar spine,
obesity, depression, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic
stress disorder (Tr. 15-16). At step three, the ALJ found
Plaintiff did not have any impairment or combination of
impairments to meet or medically equal any presumptively
disabling impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P,
App'x 1 (Tr. 16-19). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
light work with additional limitations (Tr.
19-22). At step four, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work (Tr.
22). At step five, after considering Plaintiff's age,
education, work experience, and RFC, and after utilizing the
Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P,
App'x 2 as a framework for the decision and considering
the testimony of the VE, the ALJ found there were jobs that
existed in significant numbers in the national economy that
Plaintiff could perform (Tr. 22-23). These findings led to
the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff was not under a
disability as defined by the Act at any time from the alleged
onset date through the date of the ALJ's decision (Tr.