United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
LISA A. HAMILTON, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL Security Administration, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
JEFFERY 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 Upon the Administrative
Record.” Docket No. 17. Plaintiff has filed an
accompanying Memorandum. Docket No. 18. Defendant has filed a
Response, arguing that the decision of the Commissioner was
supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed.
Docket No. 19. Plaintiff has filed a Reply. Docket No. 20.
reasons stated below, the undersigned recommends that
Plaintiff's “Motion for Judgment Upon the
Administrative Record be DENIED, and that the decision of the
Commissioner be AFFIRMED.
filed her application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) on May 9, 2016, alleging that she had
been disabled since August 15, 2014, due to “bulging
disc in my lower back”, “cant [sic]
stand on flat feet legs ankles and knees, ” “HIHG
[sic] and Low, HBP, ” “hot flasher
[sic] in days and hot flashers [sic] at
night, ” and “ headaches.” See,
e.g., Docket No. 15, Attachment (“TR”), pp.
139-145, 181. Plaintiff's application was denied both
initially (TR 60) and upon reconsideration (TR 75). Plaintiff
subsequently requested (TR 89-90) and received (TR 29-49) a
hearing. Plaintiff's hearing was conducted on November
13, 2017 by Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) H.
Scott Williams. TR 29. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert
(“VE”), Cindy Harris, appeared and testified. TR
March 13, 2018, 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 11-28.
Specifically, the ALJ made the following findings of fact:
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 August 15, 2014, the alleged onset date (20
CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease in the lumbar spine, obesity,
hypertension and migraine headaches. (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 she can frequently reach overhead and
in all other directions; frequently handle, finger and feel;
can frequently operate hand controls and foot controls
bilaterally; occasionally climb ramps and stairs but never
ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasionally balance but never
stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; can never be exposed to
unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts or operating a
motor vehicle; can occasionally be exposed to wetness,
humidity and pulmonary irritants; and can never be exposed to
temperature extremes or vibration.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant was born on July 22, 1965 and was 49 years
old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on
the alleged disability onset date. The claimant subsequently
changed age category to closely approaching advanced age (20
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is
able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or
not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41
and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569 and 404.
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from August 15, 2014, through the
date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g)).
April 9, 2018, Plaintiff timely filed a request for review of
the hearing decision. TR 137. On October 4, 2018, 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. This civil action was
thereafter timely filed, and the Court has jurisdiction. 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). If the 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 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: (1) improperly discounted
Plaintiff's credibility; (2) did not properly consider
and accord sufficient weight to the opinion of
Plaintiff's treating physician; (3) did not properly
evaluate Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity; and
(4) posed questions to the VE that did not accurately reflect
her limitations. Docket No. 18. 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 ...