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. 12]. Defendant
filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 19] to which
Plaintiff filed a response [Doc. 21].
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
Marie Sims (“Sims”) 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 August 1, 2013, and had insured status through June
30, 2015. (Doc. 29, Transcript p. 28) (reference to
“Tr” and the page denote the administrative
record). She alleged impairments she believed to be
claims were initially denied in January 2014 and upon
reconsideration in July 2014 (Tr. 28). An ALJ conducted a
hearing on September 15, 2015. Sims and a vocational expert
(“VE”) testified, although the VE only addressed
Sims's past work. (Tr. 62-63). The ALJ followed the
five-step analysis in evaluating the claims and found several
of Sims's alleged impairments to be medically
determinable. These conditions included diabetes mellitus,
atrial fibrillation, hypertension, osteoporosis, obesity, a
depressive disorder, and an anxiety disorder. (Tr. 30).
Ultimately, the ALJ made the dispositive finding that
Sims'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 Sims
was not disabled.
findings were as follows:
1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act on June 30, 2015;
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful
activity during the period from her alleged onset date of
August 1, 2013, through her date last insured of June 30,
2015 (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.);
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had following
medically determinable impairments: diabetes mellitus, atrial
fibrillation, hypertension, osteoporosis, obesity, a
depressive disorder, and ...