United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Cookeville Division
LAYLA D. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is a Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 15)
in which the Magistrate Judge recommends denying Layla D.
Williams' Motion for Judgment on the Administrative
Record (Doc. No. 12) and affirming the final decision of the
Commissioner denying Williams disability benefits. Williams
has timely filed objections (Doc. No. 16), the Commissioner
has responded (Doc. No. 17), and Williams has filed a reply
(Doc. No. 18). The Court has conducted a de novo review of
the relevant issues.
is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's
decision is supported by substantial evidence and was made
pursuant to proper legal standards. Cole v. Astrue,
661 F.3d 931, 937 (6th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks
omitted). Substantial evidence is “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Heston v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001) (internal
quotation marks omitted). “The substantial evidence
standard . . . presupposes that there is a zone of choice
within which the decisionmakers can go either way, without
interference by the courts.” Blakley v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986)).
Thus, the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision
if it is based on substantial evidence, even if there is
substantial evidence that would also have supported an
opposite conclusion. Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d
727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007).
one-page filing, Williams lodges two objections to the Report
and Recommendation. First, Williams argues that the ALJ
improperly omitted discussion of the opinion of treating
physician Dr. Rodney McMillin (although the ALJ had
previously discussed and disregarded that opinion in her
first decision in 2012). (Doc. No. 16 at 1.) The Magistrate
Judge correctly rejected this argument in the Report and
Recommendation. To the extent the ALJ's failure to
directly discuss Dr. McMillin's 2011 opinion in the
ALJ's second decision in 2017 was error, it was harmless
error because the opinion was (1) outside Dr. McMillin's
area of expertise and (2) plainly inconsistent with the
record. The clearest example of this is that Dr. McMillin
opined in 2011 that Williams could not meet the standards for
operating in a workplace setting, however Williams
undisputedly continued to perform substantial gainful
activity for the next five years. As the
Commissioner properly asserts, remanding this case for the
ALJ to disregard a patently deficient opinion would serve no
purpose because the Commissioner would not possibly credit
Williams contends that the ALJ improperly failed to discuss
the opinion of examining physician Dr. Sanjay Thakur. (Doc.
No. 16 at 1.) Again, the Magistrate Judge correctly dismissed
this argument. The opinions of examining physicians, unlike
treating physicians, are not entitled to any special
deference. Peterson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 552
Fed.Appx. 533, 539 (6th Cir. 2014); Barker v.
Shalala, 40 F.3d 789 (6th Cir. 1994). In addition, the
ALJ must take into account the amount of relevant evidence
supporting a source's opinion. Karger v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec., 414 Fed.Appx. 739, 751 (6th Cir. 2011).
Dr. Thakur's opinion - the result of only two
examinations - was provided in “checkbox” form
without supporting objective evidence. This alone entitles
the ALJ to give it little weight. Ellars v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 647 Fed.Appx. 563, 566 (6th Cir. 2016)
(collecting cases). Beyond this, Dr. Thakur's opinion was
inconsistent with other medical evidence of record. Williams
has not identified any additional underlying objective
support for Dr. Thakur's opinion. In sum, the ALJ was not
obligated to provide “good reasons” for rejecting
Dr. Thakar's non-treating-source opinion, Norris v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 461 Fed.Appx. 433, 439 (6th Cir.
2012), and, regardless, Dr. Thakar's opinion was of
little, if any, assistance to the ALJ.
the Court is satisfied that substantial evidence supported
the ALJ's finding that Williams' allegations of
disability were not established by the record. The ALJ
considered the medical evidence and the Magistrate Judge
properly evaluated the ALJ's decision. At the very least,
the ALJ's determination was reasonable based upon an
allowable consideration of record evidence and fell within
the permissible “zone of choice” within which the
ALJ could “go either way, without interference by the
courts.” Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec,
581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir. 2009). It is therefore
inappropriate to disturb the ALJ's conclusions.
Accordingly, the Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 15) is
APPROVED AND ADOPTED. The Motion for