United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville Division
DEBBIE J. AIMETTI, 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 by
consent of the parties and order of reference [Doc. 15].
Plaintiff's Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) 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). Each party filed a dispositive motion [Docs. 16 &
18] with a supporting memorandum [Docs. 17 & 19].
Choice of Law
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a civil action seeking review of
a decision of the Commissioner “shall be brought in the
district court of the United States for the judicial district
in which the plaintiff resides.” The administrative
steps in this matter, including the issuance of the decision,
were conducted in New Jersey because Plaintiff, Debbie J.
Aimetti (“Aimetti”) resided in the state. (Doc.
11, Transcript pp. 16, 35) (reference to “Tr” and
the page denote the administrative record). However, at the
time she filed her Complaint, Aimetti was a Sullivan County,
Tennessee resident required to file her action in this
contends that this Court must apply Third Circuit law and
notes this Court determined in prior cases that the law of
the circuit in which the administrative matter occurred is
applicable. The Commissioner does not offer argument in
response, but clearly maintains Sixth Circuit law controls as
the Commissioner's dispositive motion relies on Sixth
Sixth Circuit has not addressed the issue of the applicable
law in a situation such as the one presented here. Several
district courts have addressed the issue. See Powell v.
Colvin, No. 5:12-cv-157-LLK, 2014 WL 689721, at *1 (W.D.
Ky. Feb. 20, 2014) (applying Ninth Circuit case law to
administrative decision issued in Washington) (citing
Pierce v. Colvin, No. 7:12-cv-129-D, 2013 WL
3326716, at *3 (E.D. N.C. July 1, 2013); Mannella v.
Astrue, No. CIV 06-469-TUC-CKJ (BPV), 2008 WL 2428869,
at *1 (D. Ariz. June 12, 2008) (applying Tenth Circuit case
law to administrative decision issued in Colorado). In
reliance on many of these cases, this Court previously
addressed the question of applicable law in Ellis v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 2:15-cv-253 (E.D.T.N. 2015)
and Reece v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No.
2:11-cv-00378 (E.D.T.N. 2011) and determined that the law of
the circuit in in which the administrative matter took place
is applicable. Thus, this Court will apply Third Circuit law.
Standard of Review
standard of review in social security cases is whether
substantial evidence exists in the record to support the
Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Allen v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 37, 39 (3d 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). A court may not review the case de
novo or reweigh the evidence of record. Palmer v.
Apfel, 995 F.Supp. 549, 552 (E.D. Pa. 1998). Where the
ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial
evidence, a court is bound by those findings, even if the
court would have decided the factual inquiry differently.
Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir.
1999). To determine whether a finding is supported by
substantial evidence, however, the district court must review
the record as a whole. See 5 U.S.C. § 706.
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. 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). The 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 Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d
403, 406 (3d Cir. 1979). The Commissioner has the burden to
establish the claimant's ability to work at step five.
RELEVANT FACTS AND PROCEDURAL OVERVIEW
filed a DIB application on January 22, 2013, alleging
impairments she believed to be disabling. She alleged an
onset date of May 15, 2010. (Tr. 16). Aimetti had insured
status through September 2017. (Tr. 18). Her claim was
initially denied in April 2013 and upon reconsideration in
July 2013. (Tr. 16). An ALJ conducted a hearing on June 22,
2015. (Tr. 35-69).
followed the five-step analysis in evaluating the claims. The
ALJ found Aimetti had severe medical impairments, but was not
disabled. The findings were as follows:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through September 30, 2017;
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since May 15, 2010, the alleged onset date (20 ...