United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville Division
JAMES E. LEE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
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 and Supplemental Security Income
applications under the Social Security Act were 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). Each party has filed a dispositive motion [Docs. 14
& 16] with a supporting memorandum [Docs. 15 & 17].
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 & Human
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 a
court were to resolve factual issues differently, the
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).
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 his
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 &
416.920. 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) & 416.920(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
E. Lee (“Lee”) filed applications for disability
insurance and supplemental security income in April 2013,
alleging an onset date of April 8, 2012. (Doc. 8, Transcript
pp. 12) (reference to “Tr” and the page denote
the administrative record). Lee's claims were denied on
March 19, 2014. (Tr. 12). The claims were again denied upon
reconsideration in July 2014. (Id.). An ALJ
conducted an evidentiary hearing on September 25, 2016. Lee
and a vocational expert testified. (Tr. 33-55).
followed the five-step analysis in evaluating the claims. He
found Lee had severe medical impairments, (Tr. 15), but