United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville
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 Judgment on the
Administrative Record and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 19
& 20] and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 23 & 24]. Rodney Bruce
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 DENY the Plaintiff's motion, and
GRANT the Commissioner's motion.
8, 2010, the Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental
security income, claiming a period of disability that began
on December 31, 2010. [Tr. 173]. After his application was
denied initially and upon reconsideration, the Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an ALJ. [Tr.121]. Following a
hearing, the ALJ found the Plaintiff was “not
disabled.” [Tr. 21-37]. The Appeals Council denied the
Plaintiff's request for review [Tr. 1-6], making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
exhausted his administrative remedies, the Plaintiff filed a
Complaint with this Court on May 25, 2016, seeking judicial
review of the Commissioner's final decision under Section
405(g) of the Social Security Act. [Doc. 2]. 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).
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) determination is not supported
by substantial evidence. The ALJ determined that the
Plaintiff “has the residual functional capacity to
perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b)
except he can manipulate gross objects but not fine objects
due to some limitation in bilateral dexterity, and he should
work with things rather than people.” [Tr. 29]. The
Plaintiff submits that (1) the ALJ did not properly weigh the
medical opinion of medical expert Allan R. Goldstein, M.D.,
regarding the Plaintiff's physical limitations, and (2)
the ALJ relied on his own lay opinion, rather than the
medical opinions of record, in assessing the Plaintiff's
mental limitations. [Doc. 20 at 7-13].
from nontreating and nonexamining sources are never assessed
for ‘controlling weight.'” Gayheart v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 710 F.3d 365, 376 (6th Cir.
2013; see Barker v. Shalala, 40 F.3d 789, 794 (6th
Cir. 1994) (holding that opinions rendered by one-time
examiners are not entitled to any special degree of
deference). Instead, the opinions are weighed “based on
the examining relationship (or lack thereof), specialization,
consistency, and supportability.” Gayheart,
710 F.3d at 376 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)).
“Other factors ‘which tend to support or
contradict the opinion' may be considered in assessing
any type of medical opinion.” Id. (quoting 20
C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(6)).
Medical Opinion of Allan R. Goldstein, M.D.
Goldstein appeared at the administrative hearing as an
impartial medical expert and rendered an opinion on the
severity of the Plaintiff's back impairment, as well as
the functional limitations resulting from a right wrist
impairment. [Tr. 24, 51]. Dr. Goldstein testified that based
on treatment records from a pain clinic, the Plaintiff's
report of back and neck pain and leg weaknesses and numbness
were symptoms “consistent with a disc disease with
depression on the nerves.” [Tr. 51 (citing Exhibit
13F)]. Dr. Goldstein attributed the Plaintiff's back
impairment to a four-wheeler accident that occurred in June
2013. [Tr. 51, 393]. CT scans that were taken following the
accident revealed degenerative disc disease and spondylosis
at ¶ 6-7, a non-displaced pelvic facture, and
“normal” thoracic spine. [Tr. 385]. The
orthopedic doctor who evaluated the Plaintiff recommended
non-operative treatment, but the Plaintiff did not return for
his follow-up appointment. [Tr. 341].
Goldstein opined that based on the Plaintiff's back and
neck discomfort, as well as leg weakness and numbness, the
Plaintiff's impairment equaled Listing 1.04A. [Tr.
51-52]. Dr. Goldstein observed that because no MRI was
performed to prove the presence of disc disease with
depression of the ...