United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
K. LEE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Tamesha Eppinger (“Plaintiff”) brought this
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)
seeking judicial review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”
or “Defendant”) denying her disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”). Each party has moved for judgment [Docs.
19 & 25] and filed supporting briefs [Docs. 20 & 26].
This matter is now ripe. For the reasons stated below: (1)
Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings [Doc.
19] will be DENIED; (2) the
Commissioner's motion for summary judgment [Doc. 25] will
be GRANTED; and the decision of the
Commissioner will be AFFIRMED.
to the administrative record [Doc. 12 (“Tr.”)],
Plaintiff filed her application for DIB and SSI on May 24,
2016, alleging disability beginning May 1, 2016.
Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and on
reconsideration at the agency level. Plaintiff requested a
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), which was held in Chattanooga,
Tennessee, on November 8, 2017. On March 2, 2018, the ALJ
found Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the
Social Security Act from the alleged onset of disability date
through the date of decision. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff
timely filed the instant action.
Education and Employment Background
was born on January 6, 1985, making her as a “younger
individual” on the alleged onset date. She has a
ninth-grade education, and is able to communicate in English.
She has past relevant work as a packer and a poultry
processor. Also, she previously worked as a babysitter/child
care provider, and as a hair braider, but not to the extent
required to qualify as past relevant work for social security
Disability Report, Plaintiff alleged disability due to severe
depression, a learning disorder, nerve issues, and anxiety
(Tr. 214). While there is no need to summarize the medical
records herein, the relevant records have been reviewed and
will be discussed below as necessary.
hearing before the ALJ on November 8, 2017, Plaintiff and a
vocational expert (“VE”) testified. The Court has
carefully reviewed the transcript of the testimony from the
hearing (Tr. 38-57).
ELIGIBILITY AND THE ALJ'S FINDINGS
Social Security Act defines a disability as the
‘inability to 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.'”
Schmiedebusch v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 536
Fed.Appx. 637, 646 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A)); see also Parks v. Soc. Sec. Admin.,
413 Fed.Appx. 856, 862 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A)). A claimant is disabled “only 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.”
Parks, 413 Fed.Appx. at 862 (quoting 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(2)(A)). The Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) determines eligibility for disability
benefits by following a five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The five-step process provides:
1) If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, the
claimant is not disabled.
2) If the claimant does not have a severe medically
determinable physical or mental impairment-i.e., an
impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities-the claimant is
3) If the claimant has a severe impairment(s) that meets or
equals one of the listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the
regulations and meets the duration requirement, the claimant
4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him or
her from doing his or her past relevant work, the claimant is
5) If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, the
claimant is not disabled.
Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647,
652 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). The claimant bears
the burden to show the extent of his impairments, but at step
five, the Commissioner bears the burden to show that,
notwithstanding those impairments, there are jobs the
claimant is capable of performing. See Ealy v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec, 594 F.3d 504, 512-13 (6th Cir. 2010)
The ALJ's Findings
found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through
December 31, 2020. At step one of the five-step process, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since May 1, 2016, the alleged onset date.
At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: schizoaffective disorder, generalized anxiety
disorder, and panic disorder without agoraphobia. The ALJ
also found Plaintiff had other conditions which were
medically determinable but not severe, including obesity,
hypertension, remote congestive heart failure, and substance
abuse disorder; as well as alleged conditions which were not
medically determinable, including schizophrenia/paranoia with
hallucinations, a learning disorder, and an intellectual
three, the ALJ found Plaintiff does not have an impairment or
combination of impairment that meets or medically equals the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
the ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all
exertional levels, with the following nonexertional
• She can understand, remember, carry out, and maintain
concentration, persistence, and pace with customary breaks,
but only for ...