United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Northeastern Division
TRAVIS M. HOUSER, Plaintiff,
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR., CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Social Security Appeal, Magistrate Judge Frensley has issued
a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) (Doc. No.
25) in which he recommends that Plaintiff's Motion for
Judgment on the Administrative Record (Doc. No. 18) be
denied, and that the decision of the Commissioner denying
benefits be affirmed. Plaintiff has filed an Objection (Doc.
No. 26) to the R&R raising two specific complaints and a
more general complaint that Magistrate Judge Frensley's
“decision consists of 23 pages of relevant law and a
complete reproduction of the ALJ's recitation of the
medical evidence before any discussion of Plaintiff's
contentions even begins[.]” Id. at 8. How
Magistrate Judge Frensley chose to structure his decision is,
of course, largely irrelevant, so long as he properly applied
the governing law to the facts. Accordingly, the Court turns
to the specific objections.
Plaintiff argues that “the ALJ failed to properly
assess the opinions of Plaintiff's three treating
physicians, including her [sic] primary care physician, Dr.
Bray, neurosurgeon, Dr. Standard, and physical medicine and
rehabilitative specialist, Dr. Le.” (Id. at
1). Just as he did in his initial briefing, Plaintiff then
spends several pages laying out particular evidence
supporting his claim of disability. This is understandable,
but “[m]erely marshaling evidence to suggest that he is
disabled . . . is insufficient; to prevail on appeal,
[Plaintiff] must demonstrate that the ALJ's determination
that he was not disabled is not supported by substantial
evidence.” Peterson v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 552 Fed.Appx. 533, 540 (6th Cir. 2014). “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). Very recently, the Supreme Court
described “substantial evidence” as follows:
The phrase “substantial evidence” is a
“term of art” used throughout administrative law
to describe how courts are to review agency factfinding.
T-Mobile South, LLC v. Roswell, 574 U.S. __, __, 135
S.Ct. 808, 815, 190 L.Ed.2d 679 (2015). Under the
substantial-evidence standard, a court looks to an existing
administrative record and asks whether it contains
“sufficien[t] evidence” to support the
agency's factual determinations. Consolidated Edison
Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S.Ct. 206, 83 L.Ed.
126 (1938) (emphasis deleted). And whatever the meaning of
“substantial” in other contexts, the threshold
for such evidentiary sufficiency is not high. Substantial
evidence, this Court has said, is “more than a mere
scintilla.” Ibid.; see,
e.g., Perales, 402 U.S. at 401, 91 S.Ct.
1420 (internal quotation marks omitted). It means-and means
only-“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Consolidated Edison, 305 U.S. at 229, 59 S.Ct. 206.
See Dickinson v. Zurko, 527 U.S. 150, 153, 119 S.Ct.
1816, 144 L.Ed.2d 143 (1999) (comparing the
substantial-evidence standard to the deferential
Biestek v. Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019).
Plaintiff certainly can believe otherwise, there was more
than a mere scintilla of evidence to support the ALJ's
conclusion and, by extension, the recommended affirmance of
that conclusion by Magistrate Judge Frensley. Neither ignored
the treating physician evidence that was in the record.
Specifically, recounting the ALJ's conclusions,
Magistrate Judge Frensley observed:
Acknowledging the longitudinal treating relationship and
specialization of Dr. Bray as Plaintiff's primary care
physician (TR 28-29), Dr. Standard as a treating physician
(TR 29), and Dr. Le as a treating pain management physician
(TR 29-30), the ALJ ultimately determined that those treating
physicians' opinions were not due controlling weight
because they were inconsistent with, and unsupported by,
other evidence of record. Specifically, the ALJ explained
that Dr. Bray's reported limitations were not consistent
with her own treating notes and subsequent examinations,
objective studies, Plaintiff's conservative treatment of
wearing wrist splints at night, and Plaintiff's own
testimony and self-reports. TR 28-29. With regard to
discounting Dr. Standard's opinion, the ALJ explained
that Dr. Standard's opined limitations were “out of
proportion” with the objective medical evidence of
record; in particular with EMG findings, Plaintiff's
self-report, Plaintiff's daily activities, and the
physical examinations of record. TR 29. As to the limitations
opined by Dr. Le, the ALJ explained that Dr. Le's opinion
was generally consistent with the statements provided by Drs.
Bray and Standard and that she declines to accord controlling
weight to Dr. Le's opinion “for the same reasons as
the opinions from Dr. Bray and Dr. Standard”; namely,
the objective evidence including EMGs and physical exams does
not support the opined upper extremity exertional
restrictions and the record further does not support the
opined limitations in concentration and attention or the need
for additional breaks. TR 29-30.
* * *
When opinions are inconsistent with each other and/or the
evidence, the final decision regarding the weight to be given
to the differing opinions lies with the Commissioner. 20 CFR
§ 416.927(e)(2). Because there were contradictory
opinions in the record, because the ALJ properly discussed
the medical, testimonial, and opinion evidence of record,
because the ALJ appropriately explained the weight accorded
to the opinions and the reasons therefor, and because those
reasons were supported by the evidence of record, the
ALJ's evaluation of the medical evidence was proper, as
was the ALJ's determination with regard to
Plaintiff's physical limitations and the resultant
physical residual functional capacity. Accordingly, the
ALJ's decision on these points stands.
(Doc. No. 25 at 24). Upon de novo review of the
record, as cabined by the “highly deferential”
substantial evidence standard, Somberg on behalf of
Somberg v. Utica Cmty. Sch., 908 F.3d 162, 173 (6th Cir.
2018), this Court agrees for the reasons cogently articulated
by the ALJ and Magistrate Judge Frensley.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by affording Dr. Cynthia
Rector, his long-time treating psychologist, only some
weight. Rather, he insists, her opinion should have been
given controlling weight because “it was fully
supported by Dr. Rector's own examination
findings.” S(Doc. No. 26 at 11).
chose to discount Dr. Rector's opinion as to work
limitations, and had an ample basis for doing so. While
Plaintiff points to many examples in the record where he
complained of hopelessness, feeling unworthy, lacking
motivation, sleeping excessively, and having obsessions,
among other things, those reports are not self-proving.
Indeed, and as the ALJ observed, “the mental health
status exams of record . . . consistently noted cooperative
behavior, and an ability to concentrate in the room despite
distractions.” (A.R. 25).
Mental Capacity Assessment dated October 22, 2015, Dr. Rector
diagnosed Plaintiff with “OCD, Major Depression.”
She then scored the degree(s) of limitation caused by the
diagnosis in eleven subcategories related to
“Understanding and Memory” and “Sustained
Concentration & Persistence.” For all but two
categories, Dr. Rector rated Plaintiff as having only a
“slight” or “moderate” limitation,
with the former meaning “there is some mild limitation
in this area, but the individual can generally function
satisfactorily, ” and the latter meaning “the
individual will have intermittent difficult performing in
this area” i.e., “the person can
generally perform satisfactorily in this area, but not
always.” The sole exceptions were (1) “the
ability to complete a normal workweek without
interruptions from psychologically based symptoms, ”
and (2) “the ability to complete a normal
workweek” because of those symptoms. (Doc. No. 13,
A.R. at 416) (emphasis in original). For both, Dr. Rector
noted a “marked” limitation, explaining that
Plaintiff “has obsessions which require mental effort
to control and which take time away from concentrating on
argues that in her residual functional capacity to work
determination,  the ALJ did not properly account for these
limitations, and specifically Plaintiff's
obsessive-compulsive disorder (“OCD”). He cites
to the National Institute of Mental Health's website and
its definition of obsessive-compulsive disorder,
posits that the ALJ erred by “completely fail[ing] to
explain how a restriction to ‘limited workplace
changes, and simple and detailed tasks' could possibly
address Plaintiff's obsessive-compulsive
impairments.” (Doc. No. 26 at 12). Rather, “[t]he
ALJ must build a logical bridge between the evidence and
h[er] conclusion.” (Id.) ...