United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division
ORDER REMANDING CASE PURSUANT TO 42 U.S.C. §
PHAM, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
the court is plaintiff Charles Edward Caffey's appeal
from a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401
et seq. On May 25, 2017, the parties consented to
the jurisdiction of the United States magistrate judge
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (ECF No. 12.) For the
reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is
reversed and the action is remanded pursuant to sentence four
of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
December 16, 2010, Caffey applied for disability insurance
benefits under Title II of the Act. (R. at 102.) Caffey
alleged disability beginning on August 10, 2003, due to
residual back problems from a herniated disk. (R. at 102,
179, 183.) Caffey's application was denied initially and
upon reconsideration by the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”). (R. at 22.) At Caffey's request, a
hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) on May 1, 2012. (Id.) On May 23,
2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying Caffey's request
for benefits after finding that Caffey was not under a
disability because he retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy. (R. at 22-30.)
On July 20, 2014, the SSA's Appeals Council denied
Caffey's request for review. (R. at 1.) Therefore, the
ALJ's decision became the final decision for the
Commissioner. (Id.) Subsequently, on August 18,
2014, Caffey filed the instant action. (ECF No. 1.) Caffey
argues that (1) the ALJ erred by improperly weighing the
opinion of Caffey's treating physician, Dr. Forest
Robinson; and (2) the ALJ's finding that Caffey has the
RFC to perform a significant number of jobs in the national
and local economy is not supported by substantial evidence.
(ECF No. 8 at 6-8.)
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
Standard of Review
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a claimant may obtain judicial
review of any final decision made by the Commissioner after a
hearing to which he or she was a party. “The court
shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript
of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing
the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or
without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Judicial review of the Commissioner's
decision is limited to whether there is substantial evidence
to support the decision and whether the Commissioner used the
proper legal criteria in making the decision. Id.;
Burton v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 16-4190, 2017
WL 2781570, at *2 (6th Cir. June 27, 2017); Cole v.
Astrue, 661 F.3d 931, 937 (6th Cir. 2011); Rogers v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir.
2007). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla of
evidence but less than a preponderance, and is “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Kirk v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524,
535 (6th Cir. 1981) (quoting Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).
determining whether substantial evidence exists, the
reviewing court must examine the evidence in the record as a
whole and “must ‘take into account whatever in
the record fairly detracts from its weight.'”
Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990)
(quoting Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 388 (6th
Cir. 1984)). If substantial evidence is found to support the
Commissioner's decision, however, the court must affirm
that decision and “may not even inquire whether the
record could support a decision the other way.”
Barker v. Shalala, 40 F.3d 789, 794 (6th Cir. 1994)
(quoting Smith v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 893 F.2d 106, 108 (6th Cir. 1989)). Similarly,
the court may “not try the case de novo, resolve
conflicts in the evidence or decide questions of
credibility.” Ulman v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007)).
The Commissioner, not the court, is charged with the duty to
weigh the evidence and to resolve material conflicts in the
testimony. Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127
F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997); Crum v. Sullivan, 921
F.2d 642, 644 (6th Cir. 1990); Prater v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., No. 114CV01221STATMP, 2017 WL 2929479, at *1
(W.D. Tenn. July 10, 2017).
The Five-Step Analysis
defines 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.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1). Additionally,
section 423(d)(2) of the Act states that:
An individual shall be determined to be under a disability
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, regardless
of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work. For
purposes of the preceding sentence (with respect to any
individual), “work which exists in the national
economy” means work which exists in significant numbers
either in the region where such individual lives or in
several regions of the country.
the Act, the claimant bears the ultimate burden of
establishing an entitlement to benefits. Oliver v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 415 F.App'x 681, 682 (6th
Cir. 2011). The initial burden is on the claimant to prove
she has a disability as defined by the Act. Siebert v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 105 F.App'x 744, 746 (6th
Cir. 2004) (citing Walters, 127 F.3d at 529); see also
Born v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 923 F.2d
1168, 1173 (6th Cir. 1990). If the claimant is able to do so,
the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate the
existence of available employment compatible with the
claimant's disability and background. Born, 923 F.2d at
1173; see also Griffith v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
582 F.App'x 555, 559 (6th Cir. 2014).
to social security benefits is determined by a five-step
sequential analysis set forth in the Social Security
Regulations. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
First, the claimant must not be engaged in substantial
gainful activity. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b),
416.920(b). Second, a finding must be made that the claimant
suffers from a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(5)(ii). In the third step, the
ALJ determines whether the impairment meets or equals the
severity criteria set forth in the Listing of Impairments
contained in the Social Security Regulations. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526. If the
impairment satisfies the criteria for a listed impairment,
the claimant is considered to be disabled. On the other hand,
if the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a
listed impairment, the ALJ must undertake the fourth step in
the analysis and determine whether the claimant has the RFC
to return to any past relevant work. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1520(e). If the ALJ
determines that the claimant can return to past relevant
work, then a finding of not disabled must be entered.
Id. But if the ALJ finds the claimant unable to
perform past relevant work, then at the fifth step the ALJ
must determine whether the claimant can perform other work
existing in significant numbers in the national economy. See
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g)(1),
416.960(c)(1)-(2). Further review is not necessary if it is
determined that an individual is not disabled at any point in
this sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).
The ALJ's Assessment of the Treating ...