United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville
JAMIE S. GILLENWATER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Clifford Shirley, Jr. United States Magistrate Judge.
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. 19]. Now before the
Court is the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and
Memorandum in Support [Docs. 14 & 15] and the
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in
Support [Docs. 20 & 21]. Jamie S. Gillenwater (“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.
February 14, 2012, the Plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., claiming
a period of disability that began on November 30, 2011. [Tr.
62, 162-64]. After her application was denied initially and
upon reconsideration, the Plaintiff requested a hearing
before an ALJ. [Tr. 83]. Following the hearing [Tr. 55-82],
the ALJ issued a decision on October 2, 2014, finding the
Plaintiff was “not disabled.” [Tr. 37-49]. 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 her administrative remedies, the Plaintiff filed a
Complaint with this Court on May 16, 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. 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. 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).
appeal, the Plaintiff maintains that the ALJ's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) determination is not
supported by substantial evidence.
determination of a claimant's [RFC] is a determination
based upon the severity of his medical and mental
impairments.” Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th Cir. 1999). The RFC describes
“the claimant's residual abilities or what a
claimant can do, not what maladies a claimant suffers
from-though the maladies will certainly inform the ALJ's
conclusion about the claimant's abilities.”
Howard v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 276 F.3d 235, 240
(6th Cir. 2002). Therefore, “[a] claimant's severe
impairment may or may not affect his or her functional
capacity to do work. One does not necessarily establish the
other.” Griffeth v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
217 F. App'x 425, 429 (6th Cir. Feb. 9, 2007).
is responsible for making an RFC determination after
reviewing all the relevant evidence in the record. Rudd
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 12-6136, 2013 WL
4767020, at *8 (6th Cir. Sept. 5, 2013). This includes a
review of both medical and non-medical evidence. Poe v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 342 F. App'x 149, 157 (6th
Cir. Aug. 18, 2009). A court will not disturb an ALJ's
RFC determination so long as the finding is supported by
substantial evidence. Jones v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 477 (6th Cir. 2003).
Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's RFC determination on the
basis that the ALJ failed to properly weigh the medical
opinions of treating rheumatologist, Kimberly A. Leaird, M.D.
[Doc. 15 at 18-25]. The Plaintiff contends that Dr.
Leaird's opinion is supported by her treatment notes and
other substantial evidence in the record, including treatment
records from treating neurologist George Wheatley, M.D., and
third-party statement letters written by the Plaintiff's
previous employer and co-workers. [Id. at 18-24].
Moreover, the Plaintiff ...