United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
A. Trauger Judge.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Alistair E. Newbern United States Magistrate Judge.
Honorable Aleta A. Trauger, District Judge.
case was referred to the Magistrate Judge to dispose or
recommend disposition of pretrial motions under 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1). (Doc. No. 4.) Now pending in this Social
Security appeal is Plaintiff Scott Holtman's motion for
judgment on the administrative record. (Doc. No. 12.) The
Commissioner of Social Security responded in opposition (Doc.
No. 14), and Holtman filed a reply (Doc. No. 15). Having
considered those filings and the transcript of the
administrative record (Doc. No. 8), and for the reasons given
below, the Magistrate Judge will recommend that Holtman's
motion for judgment be denied and that the decision of the
Commissioner be affirmed.
filed a Title II application for disability insurance
benefits (DIB) on July 8, 2016, at fifty-one years old. (AR
37, 243.) Holtman alleged that, since September 22, 2006, he
has been disabled as the result of severe and recurrent major
depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder,
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety
disorder, migraines, hyponatremia, hypertension,
sinusitis/allergies, and sleep apnea. (AR 243, 256.) After
his application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration, Holtman requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (ALJ). (AR 159.) Holtman was
represented by counsel at the February 5, 2018 hearing, at
which he and a vocational expert (VE) testified. (AR 37.)
April 4, 2018 opinion, the ALJ found that Holtman was not
disabled and denied his claim. (AR 37-47.) In reaching that
conclusion, the ALJ made the following enumerated findings:
1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act on December 31, 2009.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful
activity during the period from his alleged onset date of
September 22, 2006 through his date last insured of December
31, 2009 (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the
following severe impairments: major depressive disorder
(MDD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance
addiction disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
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, through
the date last insured, the claimant had the residual
functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all
exertional levels but with the following nonexertional
limitations: limited to performing only simple, routine
tasks; limited to no contact with the general public, only
occasional contact with coworkers and supervisors; and able
to adapt to only gradual, infrequent workplace changes.
6. Through the date last insured, the claimant was unable to
perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant was born on December 14, 1964 and was 45
years old, which is defined as a younger individual age
18-49, on the date last insured (20 CFR 404.1563).
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 had transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41
and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Through the date last insured, considering the
claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual
functional capacity, there were jobs that existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant
could have performed (20 CFR 404.1569 and 404.1569(a)).
11. The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in
the Social Security Act, at any time from September 22, 2006,
the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2009, the date
last insured (20 CFR 404.1520(g)).
Appeals Council denied Holtman's request for review on
August 9, 2018, rendering the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. (AR 1.) Holtman timely filed
this action on September 7, 2018 (Doc. No. 1), seeking
judgment on the administrative record (Doc. No. 12). The
Commissioner responded in opposition (Doc. No. 14), and
Holtman filed a reply (Doc. No. 15). Holtman raises two
arguments on appeal: (1) that the ALJ erred by declining to
give Dr. McFerrin's opinions controlling weight and by
failing to provide good reasons for the little weight
accorded to them; and (2) that the Commissioner did not carry
his burden of proving there are enough jobs in the national
economy to enable Holtman to make a successful employment
transition. (Doc. No. 13.)
Review of the Record
parties and the ALJ have thoroughly summarized and discussed
the medical and testimonial evidence of the administrative
record. Accordingly, the Court will only discuss those
matters to the extent necessary to analyze the parties'
Standard of Review
Social Security Act authorizes the Court to review “any
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security made
after a hearing” and “enter, upon the pleadings
and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming,
modifying, or reversing [that decision], with or without
remanding the cause for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). This Court reviews the final decision of the
Commissioner to determine whether it is supported by
substantial evidence. Miller v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 811 F.3d 825, 833 (6th Cir. 2016). “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.” Biestek v. Berryhill,
139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (alteration in original) (quoting
Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229
(1938)). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance
but “more than a mere scintilla” and means
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Id.; see also Gentry v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 741 F.3d 708, 722 (6th Cir. 2014) (same). When
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, that
decision must stand even if the record could also support a
contrary conclusion. See Hernandez v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 644 Fed.Appx. 468, 473 (6th Cir. 2016) (citing
Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997)).
This Court may not “try the case de novo,
resolve conflicts in evidence, or decide questions of
credibility.” Ulman v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007)).
However, the substantial-evidence standard does not condone
“a selective reading of the record” and instead
requires the ALJ to have considered evidence that
“‘fairly detracts'” from her decision.
Brooks v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 531 Fed.Appx.
636, 641 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Garner v. Heckler,
745 F.2d 383, 388 (6th Cir. 1984)).
Court also reviews the ALJ's decision for procedural
fairness, determining whether the ALJ properly followed the
law. Miller, 811 F.3d at 833. “The Social
Security Administration has established rules for how an ALJ
must evaluate a disability claim and has made promises to
disability applicants as to how their claims and medical
evidence will be reviewed.” Gentry, 741 F.3d
at 723. Failure to follow agency rules and regulations
therefore “‘denotes a lack of substantial
evidence, even where the conclusion of the ALJ may be
justified based upon the record.'” Id.
(quoting Cole v. Astrue, 661 F.3d 931, 937 (6th Cir.
2011)). “The failure to comply with the agency's
rules warrants a remand unless it is harmless error.”
Id. at 723 (citing Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 545-46 (6th Cir. 2004)).
Administrative Evaluation of Disability Claims
II is an insurance program that “‘provides
old-age, survivor, and disability benefits to insured
individuals irrespective of financial need.'”
Furlo v. Colvin, No. 14-cv-14392, 2016 WL 146482, at
*8 (E.D. Mich. Jan. 13, 2016) (quoting Bowen v.
Galbreath, 485 U.S. 74, 75 (1988)). To receive DIB,
Holtman must establish that he had a “disability,
” which means an “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[, ]” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), on or prior
to his last insured date, Manson v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., No. 12-11473, 2013 WL 3456960, at *2 n.1 (E.D.
Mich. July 9, 2013) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(c) and 20
C.F.R. § 404.130). Therefore, the relevant period of
analysis for Holtman's claim is September 22, 2006, his
alleged onset date, through December 31, 2009, his date last
insured. (AR 38.)
use a five-step analysis to resolve the question of
At step one, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is
engaging in substantial gainful activity; if the claimant is
performing substantial gainful activity, then the claimant is
not disabled. [20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).] At step two,
the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a medically
determinable impairment or combination of impairments that is
“severe.” Id. If the claimant does not
have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, then
the claimant is not disabled. Id. At step three, the
ALJ must determine whether the claimant's impairment
meets an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. Id. If the claimant's impairment
meets or equals one of the listings, then the ALJ will find
the claimant disabled. Id. Otherwise, the ALJ will
proceed to the fourth step, where the ALJ must assess the
claimant's residual functional capacity and past work.
Id. If the claimant can still perform his or her
past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled.
Id. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant
work, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant can make an
adjustment to other work at step five. Id. If the
claimant cannot make the adjustment, the ALJ will find the
claimant disabled. Id.
Miller, 811 F.3d at 835 n.6. Holtman bears the
burden through step four, but, at step five, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner to “identify a significant
number of jobs in the economy that accommodate
[Holtman's] residual functional capacity [RFC] and
vocational profile.” Johnson v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 652 F.3d 646, 651 (6th Cir. 2011). The agency
may carry its burden at step five by relying on the medical
vocational guidelines, also known as “the grid.”
Anderson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 406 Fed.Appx.
32, 35 (6th Cir. 2010) (explaining that the grid is designed
to simplify decision-making by directing a finding of
disabled or not disabled where certain common patterns of
vocational factors are present). However, the agency may also
carry its burden using VE testimony. Id.; see
also Wright v. Massanari, 321 F.3d 611, 616 (6th Cir.
2003) (explaining that a VE will be able to analyze an
individual's particular RFC to “determine the size
of the remaining occupational base, cite specific jobs within
the individual's [RFC], and provide a statement of the
incidence of those jobs in the region of the individual's
residence or in several regions of the country”).
raises two issues on appeal. First, he argues that the ALJ
violated the treating physician rule by failing to give Dr.
McFerrin's opinions controlling weight and failing to
give good reasons for the little weight she did accord them.
Second, Holtman argues that the Commissioner did not carry
his burden at step five of proving that there are enough jobs
in the national economy to enable Holtman to make a
successful employment transition. Critical to reviewing the
ALJ's decision is the fact that, although Holtman applied
for benefits in 2016, his application addresses only the time
period from September 22, 2006, to December 31, 2009. Limited
to that window, the ALJ's opinion is supported by
substantial evidence and neither of Holtman's arguments
Dr. McFerrin's Opinions and the ...