United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville
C. POPLIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
case is before the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(b), Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and
the consent of the parties [Doc. 16]. Now before the Court is
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in
Support [Docs. 17 & 18] and Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [Docs. 19 &
20]. Janie L. Kaufmann (“Plaintiff”) seeks
judicial review of the decision of the Administrative Law
Judge (“the ALJ”), the final decision of
Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill (“the
Commissioner”). For the reasons that follow, the Court
will DENY Plaintiff's motion and
GRANT the Commissioner's motion.
January 20, 2015, Plaintiff protectively filed an application
for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income benefits pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. and
1381 et seq., claiming a period of disability that
began on March 1, 2014. [Tr. 24, 139-40]. After her
application was denied initially and upon reconsideration,
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. [Tr. 162-63]. A
hearing was held on July 26, 2016. [Tr. 39-72]. On October
26, 2016, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. [Tr.
24-33]. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review on October 10, 2017 [Tr. 1-6], making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed a
Complaint with this Court on December 6, 2017, seeking
judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision
under Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act. [Doc. 1].
The parties have filed competing dispositive motions, and
this matter is now ripe for adjudication.
made the following findings:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2016.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since March 1, 2014, the alleged onset date (20 CFR
404.1571 et seq. and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following medically determinable
impairments: depressive disorder, somatoform disorder,
hypertension, obesity, and fibromyalgia (20 CFR 404.1521
et seq. and 416.921 et seq.).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that has significantly limited (or is expected to
significantly limit) the ability to perform the basic
work-related activities for 12 consecutive months; therefore,
the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination
of impairments (20 CFR 404.1521 et seq. and 416.921
5. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from March 1, 2014, through the
date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing the Commissioner's determination of whether an
individual is disabled pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
the Court is limited to determining whether the ALJ's
decision was reached through application of the correct legal
standards and in accordance with the procedure mandated by
the regulations and rulings promulgated by the Commissioner,
and whether the ALJ's findings are supported by
substantial evidence. Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 405 (6th Cir. 2009) (citation
omitted); Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378
F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004).
evidence is “more than a scintilla of evidence but less
than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994)
(citations omitted). It is immaterial whether the record may
also possess substantial evidence to support a different
conclusion from that reached by the ALJ, or whether the
reviewing judge may have decided the case differently.
Crisp v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 790
F.2d 450, 453 n.4 (6th Cir. 1986). The substantial evidence
standard is intended to create a “‘zone of
choice' within which the Commissioner can act, without
the fear of court interference.” Buxton v.
Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 773 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting
Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986)).
Therefore, the Court will not “try the case de
novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide
questions of credibility.” Garner v. Heckler,
745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984) (citation omitted).
review, the plaintiff “bears the burden of proving his
entitlement to benefits.” Boyes v. Sec'y. of
Health & Human Servs., 46 F.3d 510, 512 (6th Cir.
1994) (citation omitted).
means an individual cannot “engage in any substantial
gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result
in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a
continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42
U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(A). An
individual will only be considered disabled:
if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of
such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous
work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy, regardless of
whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
§§ 423(d)(2)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(B).
is evaluated pursuant to a five-step analysis summarized as
1. If claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, he is
2. If claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity, his
impairment must be severe before he can be found to be
3. If claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity and
is suffering from a severe impairment that has lasted or is
expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve
months, and his impairment meets or equals a listed
impairment, claimant is presumed disabled without further
4. If claimant's impairment does not prevent him from
doing his past relevant work, he is not disabled.
5. Even if claimant's impairment does prevent him from
doing his past relevant work, if other work exists in the
national economy that accommodates his residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) and vocational factors (age,
education, skills, etc.), he is not disabled.
Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525,
529 (6th Cir. 1997) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520). A
claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) is assessed between steps three and four
and is “based on all the relevant medical and other
evidence in your case record.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4) and -(e), 416.920(a)(4), -(e). An RFC is the
most a claimant can do despite his limitations. §§
404.1545(a)(1) and 416.945(a)(1).
claimant bears the burden of proof at the first four steps.
Walters, 127 F.3d at 529. The burden shifts
to the Commissioner at step five. Id. At the fifth
step, the Commissioner must prove that there is work
available in the national economy that the claimant could
perform. Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., ...