United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville
DEANNA W. MINTON, 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. 15]. Now before the
Court is the Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment and
Memorandum in Support [Docs. 10 & 11] and the
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in
Support [Docs. 12 & 13]. Deanna W. Minton ("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 DENY the Plaintiffs motion, and
GRANT the Commissioner's motion.
October 17, 2012 the Plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits, claiming a period of
disability which began February 1, 2008. [Tr. 129-36]. After
her application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration, the Plaintiff requested a hearing. [Tr. 85].
During the hearing, the Plaintiff amended her alleged onset
date to September 1, 2012. [Tr. 9, 30-31]. On May 5, 2015,
following a hearing, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was
"not disabled." [Tr. 6-25]. The Appeals Council
denied the Plaintiffs request for review [Tr. 1-3], and the
ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
exhausted her administrative remedies, the Plaintiff filed a
Complaint with this Court on July 22, 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.
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. Blakley v. Comm 'r of Soc.
Sec, 581 F.3d 399, 405 (6th Cir. 2009) (citation
omitted); Wilson v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec, 378
F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004).
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).
is evaluated pursuant to a five-step analysis summarized as
1. If claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, he is
2. If claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity, his
impairment must be severe before he can be found to be
3. If claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity and
is suffering from a severe impairment that has lasted or is
expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve
months, and his impairment meets or equals a listed
impairment, claimant is presumed disabled without further
4. If claimant's impairment does not prevent him from
doing his past relevant work, he is not disabled.
5. Even if claimant's impairment does prevent him from
doing his past relevant work, if other work exists in the
national economy that accommodates his residual functional
capacity ("RFC") and vocational factors (age,
education, skills, etc.), he is not disabled.
Walters v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec, 127 F.3d 525,
529 (6th Cir. 1997) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520). The
claimant bears the burden of proof at the first four steps.
Id. The burden shifts to the Commissioner at step
five. Id. At the fifth step, the Commissioner must
prove that there is work available in the national economy
that the claimant could perform. Her v. Comm 'r of
Soc. Sec, 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th Cir. 1999) (citing
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 (1987)).
appeal, the Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred at step two
by failing to find the Plaintiffs diagnosis of multifocal
conduction block neuropathy was a severe impairment. [Doc. 11
at 5]. The Plaintiff also contends that the ALJ erred at step
three, arguing that her impairment meets Listings 1.02B and
11.14. [Id. at 5-6]. Additionally, the Plaintiff
submits that the ALJ's RFC determination is not supported
by substantial evidence, because the ALJ did not properly
weigh the medical opinion of the Plaintiffs treating
physician, Darrell Thomas, M.D., or the Plaintiffs subjective
allegations. [Id. at 6-8]. As a result of the
ALJ's failure to properly assess the Plaintiffs RFC, the
Plaintiff further contends that the ALJ's finding at step
four-that the Plaintiff has past relevant work she can
perform-is likewise flawed. [Id. at 8-9]. The Court
will address each alleged error in turn.