United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville
JASON E. STRIMEL, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Clifton L. Corker UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the United States Magistrate Judge with
consent of the parties and by order of reference [Doc. 17]
for disposition and entry of a final judgment.
Plaintiff's application for Title II Disability Insurance
Benefits and/or Title XVI Supplemental Security Income under
the Social Security Act was administratively denied following
a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). This is an action for judicial review of
the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Plaintiff filed a Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings [Doc. 18] and Defendant filed a Motion for Summary
Judgment [Doc. 20].
APPLICABLE LAW - STANDARD OF REVIEW
scope of review of the Commissioner's findings is narrow.
The Court is confined to determining (1) whether substantial
evidence supported the factual findings of the ALJ and (2)
whether the Commissioner conformed with the relevant legal
standards. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see Brainard v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 889 F.2d 679,
681 (6th Cir. 1989). “Substantial evidence” is
defined as evidence that is more than a mere scintilla and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support the challenged conclusion. Richardson
v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). It must be enough
to justify, if the trial were to a jury, a refusal to direct
a verdict when the conclusion sought to be drawn is one of
fact for the jury. Lemaster v. Sec'y of Health &
Humans Servs., 802 F.2d 839, 841 (6th Cir. 1986). The
Court may 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). Even if the reviewing court were to resolve
the factual issues differently, the Commissioner's
decision must stand if supported by substantial evidence.
Listenbee v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Services, 846 F.2d 345, 349 (6th Cir. 1988). However, a
decision supported by substantial evidence “will not be
upheld where the [Social Security Administration] fails to
follow its own regulations and where that error prejudices a
claimant on the merits or deprives the claimant of a
substantial right.” Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 746 (6th Cir. 2007).
claimant must be under a “disability” as defined
by the Social Security Act to be eligible for benefits.
Within the statutory meaning, a “disability”
includes physical and/or mental impairments that are both
“medically determinable” and severe enough to
prevent the claimant from (1) performing his past job and (2)
engaging in “substantial gainful activity” that
is available in the regional or national economies. 42 U.S.C.
five-step sequential evaluation process applies in disability
determinations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 &
416.920. A dispositive finding at any step ends a review.
See Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir.
2007). The complete review poses five questions:
1. Has the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity?
2. Does the claimant suffer from one or more severe
3. Do the claimant's severe impairments, alone or in
combination, meet or equal the criteria of an impairment set
forth in the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments (the
“Listings”), 20 C.F.R. Subpart P, Appendix 1?
4. Considering the claimant's [Residual Functional
Capacity], can he or she perform his or her past relevant
5. Assuming the claimant can no longer perform his or her
past relevant work -- and also considering the claimant's
age, education, past work experience, and RFC -- do
significant numbers of other jobs exist in the national
economy which the claimant can perform?
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4) & 416.920(a)(4).
the claimant's burden to establish an entitlement to
benefits by proving the existence of a disability under 42
U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) or 1382c(a)(3)(A). See
Boyes v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 46 F.3d 510, 512 (6th Cir. 1994). The
Commissioner has the burden to establish the claimant's
ability to work at step five. Moon v. Sullivan, 923
F.2d 1175, 1181 (6th Cir. 1990).
RELEVANT FACTS AND PROCEDURAL OVERVIEW
E. Strimel (“Strimel”), was found to have the
severe impairments of degenerative disc disease and
borderline intellectual functioning per the
Decision. (Doc. 13, Transcript p.15) (reference to
“Tr” and the page denote the administrative
record). He was a younger person under the regulations at the
time of his January 8, 2013 application, 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1563 and 416.963. He alleged a disability
onset date of December 15, 2011, (Tr. 12), and his insured
status expired on December 31, 2011. (Tr. 15).
claims were initially denied on June 27, 2013, and again upon
reconsideration on October 14, 2013. (Tr. 107). An ALJ
conducted a hearing on December 11, 2014. Plaintiff
testified; a Vocational Expert (“VE”) was present
but did not testify. (Tr. 30-38).
conducted the five-step analysis in evaluating the claims.
The ALJ's Decision, (Tr. 13), made several findings,
including that Strimel was not disabled:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2011;
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since December 15, 2011, the alleged onset date (20
CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.);
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease and borderline intellectual
functioning (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c));
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526,
416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926);
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20
CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except it should be unskilled
and entry-level work;
6. The claimant has no past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565
7. The claimant was born on September 26, 1983, and was 28
years old, which is defined as a younger individual age
18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563
8. The claimant has a limited education and is able to
communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964);
9. Transferability of job skills is not an issue because the
claimant does not have past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1568
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a),
416.969, and 416.969(a));
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from December 15, 2011, though
the date of this decision (20 ...