United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Columbia Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
JEFFREY S. FRENSLEY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
a civil action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to
obtain judicial review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), as provided under
Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”).
The case is currently pending on Plaintiff's
“Motion for Judgment Based On The Administrative
Record.” Docket No. 20. Plaintiff has incorporated his
accompanying Memorandum of Law into his Motion. Id.
Defendant has filed a Response, arguing that the decision of
the Commissioner was supported by substantial evidence and
should be affirmed. Docket No. 21. Plaintiff has filed a
Reply. Docket No. 22.
reasons stated below, the undersigned recommends that
Plaintiff's “Motion for Judgment Based On The
Administrative Record” be GRANTED, and that the
decision of the Commissioner be REMANDED.
protectively filed his application for Disability Insurance
Benefits (“DIB”) on June 6, 2014,  alleging that he
had been disabled since January 15, 2010, due to cerebral
palsy and a congenital heart defect. See, e.g.,
Docket No. 18, Attachment (“TR”), pp. 56, 162.
Plaintiff's application was denied both initially (TR
81-83) and upon reconsideration (TR 85-86). Plaintiff
subsequently requested (TR 87-88) and received (TR 27-55) a
hearing. Plaintiff's hearing was conducted on July 12,
2016, by Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) John
Daughtry. TR 27. Plaintiff and vocational expert
(“VE”), Dr. Stephen Bernard Schnacke, appeared
and testified. TR 30-54.
September 9, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision unfavorable to
Plaintiff, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act and Regulations. TR 10-26.
Specifically, the ALJ made the following findings of fact:
1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act on September 30, 2014.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful
activity during the period from his alleged onset date of
January 15, 2010 through his date last insured of September
30, 2014 (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the
following severe impairments: mild cerebral palsy with right
sided spasticity and history of interstitial lung disease (20
4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have
an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled 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 through the date last insured, the
claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform a
range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) that was
limited to: lifting and carrying up to twenty pounds
occasionally and ten pounds frequently primarily using the
left upper extremity to lift and carry and the right upper
extremity to assist and balance objects; sitting, standing
and walking up to six hours each in eight-hour workdays with
normal breaks; frequent pushing and pulling with the right
upper and lower extremities; occasional kneeling and
crouching; occasional overhead reaching with the right upper
extremity; occasional exposure to extremely cold temperatures
and pulmonary irritants such as dust, fumes, odors gases and
6. Through the date last insured, the claimant was capable of
performing past relevant work as construction
runner/deliverer, [DOT# 230.663-010], (light/unskilled/SVP
2). This work did not require the performance of work-related
activities precluded by the claimant's residual
functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, at any time from January 15, 2010, the
alleged onset date, through September 30, 2014, the date last
insured (20 CFR 404.1520(f)).
November 7, 2016, Plaintiff timely filed a request for review
of the hearing decision. TR 144. On September 18, 2017, the
Appeals Council issued a letter declining to review the case
(TR 1-4), thereby rendering the decision of the ALJ the final
decision of the Commissioner.
civil action was thereafter timely filed, and the Court has
jurisdiction. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial
evidence, based upon the record as a whole, then these
findings are conclusive. Id.
REVIEW OF THE RECORD
parties and the ALJ have thoroughly summarized and discussed
the medical and testimonial evidence of record. Accordingly,
the Court will discuss those matters only to the extent
necessary to analyze the parties' arguments.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
Standard of Review
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
limited to the record made in the administrative hearing
process. Jones v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 945 F.2d 1365, 1369 (6th Cir. 1991). The purpose
of this review is to determine: (1) whether substantial
evidence exists in the record to support the
Commissioner's decision, and (2) whether any legal errors
were committed in the process of reaching that decision.
Landsaw v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs.,
803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th Cir. 1986).
evidence” means “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the
conclusion.” Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
203 F.3d 388, 389 (6th Cir. 1999), citing Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). “Substantial
evidence” has been further quantified as “more
than a mere scintilla of evidence, but less than a
preponderance.” Bell v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 105 F.3d 244, 245 (6th Cir. 1996), citing
Consol. Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229
reviewing court does not substitute its findings of fact for
those of the Commissioner if substantial evidence supports
the Commissioner's findings and inferences. Garner v.
Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). In fact,
even if the evidence could also support a different
conclusion, the decision of the ALJ must stand if substantial
evidence supports the conclusion reached. Her, 203
F.3d at 389, citing Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270,
273 (6th Cir. 1997). If the Commissioner did not consider the
record as a whole, however, the Commissioner's conclusion
is undermined. Hurst v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 753 F.2d 517, 519 (6th Cir. 1985), citing
Allen v. Califano, 613 F.2d 139, 145 (6th Cir. 1980).
reviewing the decisions of the Commissioner, courts look to
four types of evidence: (1) objective medical findings
regarding Plaintiff's condition; (2) diagnoses and
opinions of medical experts; (3) subjective evidence of
Plaintiff's condition; and (4) Plaintiff's age,
education, and work experience. Miracle v.
Celebrezze, 351 F.2d 361, 374 (6th Cir. 1965).
Proceedings At The Administrative Level
claimant carries the ultimate burden to establish an
entitlement to benefits by proving his or her
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to last for a
continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). “Substantial gainful
activity” not only includes previous work performed by
Plaintiff, but also, considering Plaintiff's age,
education, and work experience, any other relevant work that
exists in the national economy in significant numbers
regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area
in which Plaintiff lives, or whether a specific job vacancy
exists, or whether Plaintiff would be hired if he or she
applied. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).
administrative level of review, the claimant's case is
considered under a five-step sequential evaluation process
summarized as follows:
(1) If the claimant is working and the work constitutes
substantial gainful activity, benefits are automatically
(2) If the claimant is not found to have an impairment which
significantly limits his or her ability to work (a
“severe” impairment), then he or she is not
(3) If the claimant is not working and has a severe
impairment, it must be determined whether he or she suffers
from one of the “listed” impairments or its
equivalent. If a listing is met or equaled, benefits
are owing without further inquiry.
(4) If the claimant does not suffer from any listing-level
impairments, it must be determined whether the claimant can
return to the job he or she previously held in light of his
or her residual functional capacity (e.g., what the claimant
can still do despite his or her limitations). By showing a
medical condition that prevents him or her from returning to
such past relevant work, the claimant establishes a prima
facie case of disability.
(5) The burden then shifts to the Commissioner to establish
the claimant's ability to work by proving the existence
of a significant number of jobs in the national economy which
the claimant could perform, given his or her age, experience,
education, and residual functional capacity.
See, e.g., 20 CFR §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
See also Moon v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 1175, 1181 (6th
Commissioner's burden at the fifth step of the evaluation
process can be satisfied by relying on the medical-vocational
guidelines, otherwise known as “the grid, ” but
only if the claimant is not significantly limited by a
nonexertional impairment, and then only when the
claimant's characteristics identically match the
characteristics of the applicable grid rule. Moon,
923 F.2d at 1181; 20 CFR § 404, Subpt. P, App. 2, Rule
200.00(e)(1), (2). See also Damron v. Sec'y of Health
& Human Servs., 778 F.2d 279, 281-82 (6th Cir.
1985). Otherwise, the grid cannot be used to direct a
conclusion, but only as a guide to the disability
determination. Id. In such cases where the grid does
not direct a conclusion as to the claimant's disability,
the Commissioner must rebut the claimant's prima facie
case by coming forward with particularized proof of the
claimant's individual vocational qualifications to
perform specific jobs, which is typically obtained through
vocational expert testimony. See Varley v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 820 F.2d 777, 779 (6th Cir.
determining residual functional capacity for purposes of the
analysis required at stages four and five above, the
Commissioner is required to consider the combined effect of
all the claimant's impairments: mental and physical,
exertional and nonexertional, severe and nonsevere.
See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(B).
Plaintiff's Statement Of Errors
contends that the ALJ improperly considered the evidence,
failed to fully and fairly develop the record, and issued a
decision that does not allow for meaningful review because
the ALJ: (1) failed to accord proper weight to the opinion of
Plaintiff's treating physician; (2) improperly
discredited Plaintiff's subjective complaints; (3)
erroneously gave limited weight to the letter provided by
Plaintiff's father; (4) failed to consider that the
treatment options for cerebral palsy are limited; and (5)
determined a residual functional capacity that is not
supported by the medical evidence. Docket No. 20.
Accordingly, Plaintiff maintains that, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), the Commissioner's decision should be
reversed, or in the alternative, remanded. Id.
four of § 405(g) states as follows:
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
42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
cases where there is an adequate record, the Secretary's
decision denying benefits can be reversed and benefits
awarded if the decision is clearly erroneous, proof of
disability is overwhelming, or proof of disability is strong
and evidence to the contrary is lacking.” Mowery v.
Heckler, 771 F.2d 966, 973 (6th Cir. 1985). Furthermore,
a court can reverse the decision and immediately award
benefits if all essential factual issues have been resolved
and the record adequately establishes a plaintiff's
entitlement to benefits. Faucher v. Sec'y of Health
& Human Servs., 17 F.3d 171, 176 (6th Cir.
1994). See also Newkirk v. Shalala, 25 F.3d 316, 318
(6th Cir. 1994).