United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division
LESLIE C. EASTWOOD, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S
PHAM, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
the court is plaintiff Leslie C. Eastwood's appeal from a
final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security(“Commissioner”) denying his
application for disability insurance benefits under Title II
and Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”),
42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. On December 6,
2016, the parties consented to the jurisdiction of the United
States magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).
(ECF No. 20.) For the reasons set forth below, the decision
of the Commissioner is affirmed.
9, 2006, Eastwood applied for disability benefits under Title
II and Title XVI of the Act. (R. at 100, 105.) Eastwood
alleged disability beginning on May 5, 2006, due to problems
with both of his shoulders and heart problems resulting from
a stent in his main artery. (R. at 100, 139.) The Social
Security Administration (“SSA”) denied
Eastwood's application at the initial level on October
20, 2006. (R. at 40-41, 46-49, 188.) Eastwood reapplied for
benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Act on August
26, 2009. (R. at 109.) Eastwood again alleged disability
beginning on May 5, 2006, this time due to “rips and
tears in shoulders” and heart disease. (R. at 178.) The
SSA denied the second application initially and upon
reconsideration. (R. at 42-45, 54-57.) At Eastwood's
request, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) on March 22, 2011. (R. at 25-39.)
After this hearing, Eastwood amended his alleged disability
onset date to August, 72009. (R. at 543.) On June 29, 2011,
the ALJ issued a decision denying Eastwood's request for
benefits after finding Eastwood 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 14-18.) On January 1,
2012, the SSA's Appeals Council denied Eastwood's
request for review. (R. at 1.) Eastwood then filed a
complaint in this court, and the court remanded the case on
October 31, 2012, pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) for further administrative proceedings. (R. at
619-20.) On January 9, 2013, the SSA's Appeals Council
remanded the case to the ALJ for proceedings based on the
court's order. (R. at 621-25.) On April 25, 2013, the ALJ
held a second hearing and, on June 11, 2013, issued a
decision again finding Eastwood not under a disability. (R.
at 540-79.) On August 4, 2014, the SSA's Appeals Counsel
denied Eastwood's request for review. (R. at 535-37.)
Therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final decision
for the Commissioner. (Id.) Subsequently, on August
10, 2014, Eastwood filed the instant action. (ECF No. 1.)
Eastwood argues that the ALJ's determination that
Eastwood is not disabled is not supported by substantial
evidence because the ALJ erred in determining Eastwood could
perform work existing in significant numbers in the national
economy. (ECF No. 16 at 9-11.)
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 nov 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,
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:
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, 416.920(d). 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),
416.920(a)(4)(iv). 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 Step ...