United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville Division
ANNETTE F. PAYNE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. 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. 20]
for disposition and entry of a final judgment.
Plaintiff's Disability Insurance Benefits application
under the Social Security Act, Title II, was denied after two
hearings 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 filed a dispositive motion [Docs. 21 &
23] with a supporting memorandum [Docs. 22 & 24].
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 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 SSA 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
record evidence regardless of whether the ALJ cited it.
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” available in the regional or national
economies. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a).
five-step sequential evaluation is used 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. § 404.920(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
application, Annette F. Payne (“Payne”) alleged
impairments she believed to be disabling with an onset date
of May 16, 2013. (Doc. 13, Transcript p. 13) (reference to
“Tr” and the page denote the administrative
record). The claim was initially denied in October 2013 and
upon reconsideration in February 2014. (Id.). The
ALJ conducted a hearing on March 25, 2015; supplemental
testimony was provided on June 26, 2015. Payne testified at
each hearing and a vocational expert (“VE”)
testified at the supplemental hearing. (Tr. 33-62).
utilized the five-step analysis in evaluating the claims and
found several of Payne's alleged physical and mental
impairments were severe. Ultimately, the ALJ made the
dispositive finding that Payne was not disabled. The findings
were as follows:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2019;
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since May 16, 2013, the application date (20 CFR
404.1571 et seq.);
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
rheumatoid arthritis; osteoarthritis; depression; anxiety;
and obesity (20 CFR 404.1520(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 and 404.1526);
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
CFR 404.1567(c) except the claimant could stand and walk for
four houses and sit six hours, Additionally, the claimant
should not climb ropes; ladders; scaffolds, but could
occasionally perform postural. The claimant could
occasionally reach overhead with the left upper extremity,
and frequently handle and finger with the left upper
extremity. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to
hazards and extreme heat and cold. Lastly, the claimant is
limited to simple routine, repetitive work with occasional
contact with coworkers, supervisors and public.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 CFR 404.1565);
7. The claimant . . .was 44 years old, which is defined as a
younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability ...