United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville
MICHAEL A. KANIPES, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
case is before the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(b), Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,
and the consent of the parties [Doc. 13]. Now before the
Court is the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and
Memorandum in Support [Docs. 14 & 14-1] and the
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in
Support [Docs. 15 & 16]. Michael A. Kanipes (“the
Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the decision of
the Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”), the
final decision of the Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security (“the
Commissioner”). For the reasons that follow, the Court
will GRANT IN PART AND DENY IN PART the
Plaintiff's motion, and GRANT IN PART AND DENY IN
PART the Commissioner's motion.
8, 2010, the Plaintiff filed an application for disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental
security income (“SSI”), claiming a period of
disability which began July 2, 2008, but was later amended to
September 6, 2011. [Tr. 22, 180, 190, 214]. After his
application was denied initially and upon reconsideration,
the Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. [Tr. 126].
Following a hearing, the ALJ found the Plaintiff was
“not disabled.” [Tr. 92-99]. The Appeals Council,
however, remanded the case to the ALJ for further evaluation.
[Tr. 22, 105-107]. A second hearing was held on May 6, 2014.
[Tr. 39-54]. Following this second hearing, the ALJ again
found the Plaintiff was “not disabled.” [Tr.
22-33]. The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's
request for review [Tr. 1-7], making the ALJ's second
decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
exhausted his administrative remedies, the Plaintiff filed a
Complaint with this Court on April 8, 2016, seeking judicial
review of the Commissioner's final decision under Section
405(g) of the Social Security Act. [Doc. 1]. The parties have
filed competing dispositive motions, and this matter is now
ripe for adjudication. Having considered the medical evidence
in the record, the testimony at the hearing, and all other
evidence in the record, the Court finds that the medical
history of the Plaintiff and the content of the ALJ's
Decision are not in dispute, and need not be repeated here.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing the Commissioner's determination of whether an
individual is disabled pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
the Court is limited to determining whether the ALJ's
decision was reached through application of the correct legal
standards and in accordance with the procedure mandated by
the regulations and rulings promulgated by the Commissioner
and whether the ALJ's findings are supported by
substantial evidence. Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004); Blakley v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 405 (6th Cir.
2009) (citation omitted).
evidence is “more than a scintilla of evidence but less
than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994)
(citations omitted). It is immaterial whether the record may
also possess substantial evidence to support a different
conclusion from that reached by the ALJ, or whether the
reviewing judge may have decided the case differently.
Crisp v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 790
F.2d 450, 453 n.4 (6th Cir. 1986). The substantial evidence
standard is intended to create a “‘zone of
choice' within which the Commissioner can act, without
the fear of court interference.” Buxton v.
Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 773 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting
Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986)).
Therefore, the Court will not “try the case de
novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide
questions of credibility.” Garner v. Heckler,
745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984) (citation omitted).
review, the plaintiff “bears the burden of proving his
entitlement to benefits.” Boyes v. Sec'y. of
Health & Human Servs., 46 F.3d 510, 512 (6th Cir.
1994) (citation omitted).
disability determination, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff
has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform light work with the following additional limitations:
he must avoid extreme noise and hazards; with his right hand,
he can frequently handle, finger, feel, push, and pull; and
he cannot climb ladders but can occasionally climb stairs,
balance, stoop, kneel, crawl, and crouch. [Tr. 25]. At step
four, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff could perform past
relevant work as an HVAC service technician. [Tr. 32]. In
making this finding, the ALJ relied on the Plaintiff's
description of the physical requirements of his work.
[Id.]. Despite finding that the Plaintiff had past
relevant work, the ALJ made an alternative finding at step
five. [Tr. 32-33]. Using the Medical-Vocational Guidelines,
the ALJ found that other work existed in the national economy
that the Plaintiff could perform. [Id.].
appeal, the Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's RFC
determination is not supported by substantial evidence
because the ALJ did not properly weigh the medical opinions
of record, including opinions from treating physicians Linda
Harris, M.D., and William Mark Rice, M.D., and opinions from
non-treating, examining physicians E. Brantley Burns, M.D.,
Clifford Davidson, M.D., and Jeffrey Uzzle, M.D. [Doc. 14-1
at 5-7]. The Plaintiff further contends that the ALJ's
step four and step five determinations are not supported by
substantial evidence because the ALJ did not elicit any
testimony from a vocational expert (“VE”) with
regard to the effects the Plaintiff's RFC would have on
his ability to perform past work or other work in the
national economy. [Id. at 5]. The Court will address
each alleged error in turn.
Treating Physician Opinions
the Social Security Act and its implementing regulations, if
a treating physician's opinion as to the nature and
severity of an impairment is (1) well-supported by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and
(2) is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence
in the case record, it must be given “controlling
weight.” 20 C.F.R.§§ 404.1527(c)(2),
416.927(c)(2). When an opinion does not garner controlling
weight, the appropriate weight to be given to an opinion will
be determined based upon the length of treatment, frequency
of examination, nature and extent of the treatment
relationship, amount of relevant evidence that supports the
opinion, the opinion's consistency with the record as a
whole, the specialization of the source, and other factors
which tend to support or contradict the opinion. Id.
ALJ does not give a treating physician's opinion
controlling weight, the ALJ must always give “good
reasons” for the weight given to a treating
source's opinion in the decision. Id. A decision
denying benefits “must contain specific reasons for the
weight given to the treating source's medical opinion,
supported by evidence in the case record, and must be
sufficiently specific to make clear to any subsequent
reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave to the treating
source's medical opinion and the reasons for the
weight.” Soc. Sec. Rul. 96-2p, 1996 WL 374188 at *5
(July 2, 1996). Nonetheless, the ultimate decision ...