United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville
RICHARD B. JOHNSON, 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. 18]. Now before the
Court is the Plaintiff s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 19 & 20] and the
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in
Support [Docs. 21 & 22]. Richard B. Johnson ("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 the Plaintiffs motion,
and DENY the Commissioner's motion.
August 20, 2012, the Plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income, claiming a period of disability which began September
1, 2005. [Tr. 197, 201]. After his application was denied
initially and upon reconsideration, the Plaintfif requested a
hearing before an ALJ. [Tr. 106]. Following a hearing, the
ALJ found that the Plaintiff was "not disabled" on
October 3, 2017. [Tr. 11-25]. The Appeals Council denied the
Plaintiffs request for review [Tr. 1-6], and the ALJ's
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.
exhausting his administrative remedies, the Plaintiff filed a
Complaint with this Court on June 10, 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)
(quotingMullen 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
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).
Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's residual functional
capacity ("RFC") determination, contending that it
is not supported by substantial evidence based on the opinion
evidence of record. [Tr. 20 at 7-11]. "The determination
of a claimant's [RFC] is a determination based upon the
severity of his medical and mental impairments." Her
v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec, 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th Cir.
1999). The RFC describes "the claimant's residual
abilities or what a claimant can do, not what maladies a
claimant suffers from-though the maladies will certainly
inform the ALJ's conclusion about the claimant's
abilities." Howardv. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec,
276 F.3d 235, 240 (6th Cir. 2002). Therefore, "[a]
claimant's severe impairment may or may not affect his or
her functional capacity to do work. One does not necessarily
establish the other." Griffeth v. Comm 'r of Soc
Sec, 217 F.App'x 425, 429 (6th Cir. Feb. 9, 2007).
is responsible for making an RFC determination after
reviewing all the relevant evidence in the record. Ruddv.
Comm 'r of Soc Sec, No. 12-6136, 2013 WL 4767020, at
*8 (6th Cir. Sept. 5, 2013). This includes a review of both
medical and non-medical evidence. Poe v. Comm 'r of
Soc. Sec, 342 F.App'x 149, 157 (6th Cir. Aug. 18,
2009). A court will not disturb an ALJ's RFC
determination so long as the finding is supported by
substantial evidence. Jones v. Comm 'r of Soc.
Sec, 336 F.3d 469, 477 (6th Cir. 2003).
disability determination, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff
has the RFC to perform a full range of sedentary work. [Tr.
19]. The physical exertional demands of sedentary work
require "lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and
occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files,
ledgers, and small tools. Although a sedentary job is defined
as one which involves sitting, a certain amount of walking
and standing is often necessary in carrying out job
duties." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a),
416.1567(a). In this regard, a full range of sedentary work
requires that a claimant be able to stand and walk for
approximately two hours and remain seated for approximately
six hours in an eight-hour workday. Soc. Sec. Rul. 96-9p,
1996 WL 374185, at *6 (July 2, 1996).
that the Plaintiff has an RFC for a full range of sedentary
work, the ALJ relied on the medical opinions of consultative
examiners Raymond Azbell M.D., and Christopher Brooks M.D.,
and two non-examining state agency physicians. [Tr. 19-20].
Dr. Azbell opined that the Plaintiff could lift 10 pounds
frequently and 20 pounds occasionally, carry 10 to 15 pounds
occasionally, sit for about one hour at one time, stand and
walk for 30 to 45 minutes at one time, slowly climb stairs,
but never ladders or scaffolds, and occasionally balance.
[Tr. 259]. Dr. Brooks opined similar limitations, observing
that the Plaintiff could walk for 20 minutes, stand for 45
minutes, sit for one hour, and lift up to 25 pounds. [Tr.
non-examining state agency physicians opined similar lifting
and carrying restrictions but less restrictive standing,
walking, and sitting limitations. Specifically, the state
agency physicians opined that the Plaintiff could carry and
lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, but the
Plaintiff could stand and/or walk six hours and sit for six
hours. [Tr. 48-49, 82]. Many of the state agency
physicians' postural limitations also mirrored Dr.
Azbell's limitations in that the Plaintiff could
frequently climb, but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds,
occasionally balance and crawl, and frequently stoop, kneel,
and crouch. [Tr. 49, 83]. In addition, the first state agency
physician opined that the Plaintiff had environmental
restrictions against concentrated exposure to extreme cold or