United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
CLIFTON L. CORKER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the United States Magistrate Judge under the
standing orders of the Court and 28 U.S.C. § 636 for a
report and recommendation. Plaintiff's Disability
Insurance Benefits application under the Social Security Act,
Title II (the “Act”) was denied after a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). This
action is for judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision per 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff filed a
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. 13] and Defendant
filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 15].
APPLICABLE LAW - STANDARD OF REVIEW
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
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. LeMaster v. Sec'y of Health & Humans
Servs., 802 F.2d 839, 841 (6th Cir. 1986). A Court may
not try the case de novo, resolve conflicts in the
evidence, or decide questions of credibility. Garner v.
Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). Even if the
Court were to resolve factual issues differently, the
Commissioner's decision must stand if substantial
evidence supports it. Listenbee v. Sec'y of Health
& Human Services, 846 F.2d 345, 349 (6th Cir. 1988).
But, 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). The Court
may consider any evidence in the record regardless of whether
it has been cited by the ALJ. Heston v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d. 528, 535 (6th Cir. 2001).
claimant must be under a “disability” as defined
by the Act to be eligible for benefits.
“Disability” includes physical and mental
impairments that are “medically determinable” and
so severe as to prevent the claimant from (1) performing her
past job and (2) engaging in “substantial gainful
activity” that is available in the regional or national
economies. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a).
five-step sequential evaluation applies in disability
determinations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Review ends with a
dispositive finding at any step. 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).
claimant has the burden to establish an entitlement to
benefits by proving the existence of a disability under 42
U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(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
Susan Jordon (“Jordon”) was a person of advanced
age at the time of her application for Disability Insurance
Benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563. She alleged an onset
date of June 15, 2013, but has an active insured status
through December 2018. (Doc. 7, Transcript p. 11, 13)
(reference to “Tr” and the page denote the
administrative record). She alleged several impairments she
believes to be disabling.
claims were initially denied in January 2014 and upon
reconsideration in May 2014. (Tr. 11). An ALJ conducted a
hearing on August 3, 2015. Jordon and a vocational expert
testified. (Tr. 27-45). The ALJ followed the five-step
analysis in evaluating the claims and found several of
Jordon's alleged impairments to be medically
determinable. These conditions included degenerative disc
disease, arthralgias, diabetes, hypertension, anxiety and
depression. (Tr. 13). Jordon also alleged she suffered from
fibromyalgia, but the ALJ did not find this to be a medically
determinable impairment. (Tr. 13).
the ALJ made the dispositive finding that Jordon's
impairments, or a combination thereof, were not severe under
step two of the analysis. This decision concluded the process
and resulted in a determination Jordon was not disabled. The
findings were as follows:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2018;
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since June 15, 2013, the alleged onset date (20 CFR
404.1571 et seq.);
3. The claimant has the following medically determinable
impairments: degenerative disc disease, arthralgias,
diabetes, hypertension, anxiety and depression. (20 CFR
404.1521 et seq.);
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that has significantly limited (or is expected to
significantly limit) the ability to perform basic
work-related activities for 12 consecutive months; therefore,
the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination
of impairments (20 CFR 404.1521 et seq.);
5. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from June 15, 2013, through the
date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
(Tr. 40-51). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
review request. (Tr. 1).
Evidence in the Record
summarized the evidence. (Tr. 13-19). Jordon's brief
reviews the record evidence [Doc. 14, pp. 3-11] and the
Commissioner's brief does likewise [Doc. 16, pp. 3-11].
The transcript contains reports from one treating provider
regarding her mental conditions (Tr. 374-75, 421-22,
499-503). State agency reviewers also reviewed and opined
about Jordon's physical and mental conditions. (Tr.
46-56, 60-72). Reference to the evidence is only set forth as
asserts two errors. First, she urges the finding that she
does not have a severe mental impairment is not supported by
substantial evidence. Next, she claims the ALJ failed to
properly evaluate and address evidence demonstrating that
fibromyalgia is a medically determinable impairment from
which she suffers under Social Security Ruling
(“SSR”) 12-2p. The Commissioner ...