United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville Division
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 application under the Social Security 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 &
19] with a supporting memorandum [Docs. 17 & 20].
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 to 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. § 404.1520(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, Kimberly Lynn Pierce (“Pierce”)
alleged impairments she believed were disabling as of July
17, 2014 (Doc. 11, Transcript p. 11) (reference to
“Tr” and the page denote the administrative
record). Her claim was initially denied in May 2015 and upon
reconsideration in September 2015 (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 testified at the supplemental
hearing (Tr. 28-43).
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 July 17, 2014, the alleged onset date (20 CFR
404.1571 et seq.);
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease with right hip pain; cardiac
disease; anxiety; and depression (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(b) except standing and walking four hours,
sitting six hours, occasionally kneeling, balancing,
stooping, crouching, and crawling, and reaching overhead
bilaterally, avoiding concentrated exposure to fumes and
respiratory irritants, hazards and vibrations and climbing.
The claimant can perform simple routine work tasks.
6. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work
as a clerk (Dictionary of Occupational Titles #205.367.062).
This work does not require the performance of work-related
activities precluded by the claimant's residual
functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565);
7. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, since July 14, 2014, through the
date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g)).
(Tr. 11-22). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
review request (Tr. 1).
Evidence in the Record
Commissioner filed a Transcript that includes records from
the disability proceedings, including medical records and
opinions from treating sources, an examining consultant and
state agency reviewers. Pierce's brief reviews the
history, particularly the medical opinion evidence [Doc. 17].
The Commissioner's brief also reviews the record [Doc.
maintains she has the severe impairments of back pain and
right hip pain, heart problems, and depression and anxiety
(Tr. 13, 33-37). A review of her medical history is ...