United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
CLIFTON L. CORKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the United States Magistrate Judge with the
consent of the parties and by order of reference [Doc. 13]
for disposition and entry of a final judgment.
Plaintiff's Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) applications under the Social Security
Act, Titles II and XVI, 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 filed a dispositive
motion [Docs. 18 & 20] with a supporting memorandum
[Docs. 19 & 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 & 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 [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 &
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
T. Simpkins (“Simpkins”) filed DIB and SSI
applications in April 2012. He alleged an onset date of June
2, 2013, and had insured status through December 31, 2014.
(Doc. 9, Transcript p. 17) (reference to “Tr” and
the page denote the administrative record). He alleged
multiple impairments he believed to be disabling, including
back, shoulder and hand conditions. Simpkins' claims were
initially denied in January 2014 and upon reconsideration in
May 2014. (Tr. 17). An ALJ conducted a hearing in July 2015
and a supplemental hearing in December 2015. Brief testimony
was provided at the first hearing; the bulk of the testimony
was supplied at the supplemental hearing by Simpkins and a
vocational expert. (Tr. 17, 549-60).
followed the five-step analysis in evaluating the claims. The
ALJ found Simpkins had severe medical impairments, but was
not disabled. The findings were:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2014;
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since June 2, 2013, the alleged onset date (20 CFR
404.1571 et seq. and 416.971 et seq.);
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and thoracic
spine; degenerative joint disease of the left shoulder; neck
disorder; arthritis; history of left wrist fracture;