United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S
PHAM United States Magistrate Judge.
the court is plaintiff Lurine Massey's appeal from a
final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security(“Commissioner”) denying her
application for disability insurance benefits under Title II
and Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”),
42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. On September 9, 2016, the
parties consented to the jurisdiction of the United States
magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (ECF
No. 13.) For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the
Commissioner is affirmed.
February 23, 2010, Massey applied for disability benefits
under Title II and Title XVI of the Act, alleging disability
beginning on January 5, 2010. (R. at 63.) The Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) denied these claims
initially and upon reconsideration. (Id.) At
Massey's request, a hearing was held before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on November 9,
2011. (Id.) On December 28, 2011, the ALJ denied
Massey's request for benefits after finding that she was
not under a disability because she retained the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform past
relevant work. (R. at 63-67.)
February 25, 2013, Massey reapplied for disability benefits
under Title II of the Act. (R. at 207.) On May 1, 2013, she
reapplied for disability benefits under Title XVI of the Act.
(R. at 209.) Initially, she alleged disability beginning on
January 6, 2010, but she now alleges disability beginning on
December 29, 2011, due to lower lumbar pain, high blood
pressure, knee pain in both knees, and impaired eyesight. (R.
at 33, 207, 209, 228.) Massey's last date insured was
December 30, 2015. (R. at 225.) The SSA also denied these
applications initially and upon reconsideration. (R. at 78,
92, 121, 139.) Massey requested and received a second hearing
before an ALJ on December 2, 2014. (R. at 27.) On February
18, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying Massey's
request for benefits after finding that Massey was not under
a disability because she retained the RFC to perform past
relevant work. (R. at 8-26.) On May 16, 2016, the SSA's
Appeals Council denied Massey's request for review. (R.
at 1.) Therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final
decision for the Commissioner. (Id.) Subsequently,
on June 13, 2016, Massey filed the instant action. (ECF No.
1.) Massey argues that the ALJ's determination that she
could return to previous work is unsupported by substantial
evidence because the ALJ should have given more weight to the
RFC assessment provided by her treating physician, David K.
Jennings, M.D., and less weight to the opinions of the state
examiners and evaluators. (ECF No. 16 at 3-8.)
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
Standard of Review
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a claimant may obtain judicial
review of any final decision made by the Commissioner after a
hearing to which she or he was a party. “The court
shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript
of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing
the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or
without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Judicial review of the Commissioner's
decision is limited to whether there is substantial evidence
to support the decision and whether the Commissioner used the
proper legal criteria in making the decision. Id.;
Burton v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 16-4190, 2017
WL 2781570, at *2 (6th Cir. June 27, 2017); Cole v.
Astrue, 661 F.3d 931, 937 (6th Cir. 2011); Rogers v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir.
2007). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla of
evidence but less than preponderance and is “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Kirk v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524,
535 (6th Cir. 1981) (quoting Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).
determining whether substantial evidence exists, the
reviewing court must examine the evidence in the record as a
whole and “must ‘take into account whatever in
the record fairly detracts from its weight.'”
Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir.
1990) (quoting Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 388
(6th Cir. 1984)). If substantial evidence is found to support
the Commissioner's decision, however, the court must
affirm that decision and “may not even inquire whether
the record could support a decision the other way.”
Barker v. Shalala, 40 F.3d 789, 794 (6th Cir. 1994)
(quoting Smith v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 893 F.2d 106, 108 (6th Cir. 1989)). Similarly,
the court may “not try the case de novo, resolve
conflicts in the evidence or decide questions of
credibility.” Ulman v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007)).
The Commissioner, not the court, is charged with the duty to
weigh the evidence and to resolve material conflicts in the
testimony. Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127
F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997); Crum v. Sullivan, 921
F.2d 642, 644 (6th Cir. 1990); Prater v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., No. 114CV01221STATMP, 2017 WL 2929479, at *1
(W.D. Tenn. July 10, 2017).
defines disability as the “inability to engage in any
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1). Additionally,
section 423(d)(2) of the Act states,
An individual shall be determined to be under a disability
only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are
of such severity that he is not only unable to do his
previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and
work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial
gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless
of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work. For
purposes of the preceding sentence (with respect to any
individual), “work which exists in the national
economy” means work which exists in significant No.
either in the region where such individual lives or in
several regions of the country.
the Act, the claimant bears the ultimate burden of
establishing an entitlement to benefits. Oliver v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 415 Fed.Appx. 681, 682 (6th
Cir. 2011). The initial burden is on the claimants to prove
they have a disability as defined by the Act. Siebert v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 105 Fed.Appx. 744, 746 (6th
Cir. 2004) (citing Walters, 127 F.3d at 529);
see also Born v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 923 F.2d 1168, 1173 (6th Cir. 1990). If the
claimant is able to do so, the burden then shifts to the
Commissioner to demonstrate the existence of available
employment compatible with the claimant's disability and
background. Born, 923 F.2d at 1173; see also
Griffith v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 582 Fed.Appx.
555, 559 (6th Cir. 2014).
to social security benefits is determined by a five-step
sequential analysis set forth in the Social Security
Regulations. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920. First, the claimant must not be engaged in
substantial gainful activity. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). Second, a finding must
be made that the claimant suffers from a severe impairment.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(5)(ii).
In the third step, the ALJ determines whether the impairment
meets or equals the severity criteria set forth in the
Listing of Impairments contained in the Social Security
Regulations. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d),
404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d). If the impairment satisfies
the criteria for a listed impairment, the claimant is
considered to be disabled. On the other hand, if the
claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a listed
impairment, the ALJ must undertake the fourth step in the
analysis and determine whether the claimant has the RFC to
return to any past relevant work. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (e), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If
the ALJ determines that the claimant can return to past
relevant work, then a finding of not disabled must be
entered. Id. But if the ALJ finds the claimant
unable to perform past relevant work, then at the fifth step
the ALJ must ...