United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville
FRANCES M. VALLE, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
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. 21]. Now before the Court
are Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment and
Memorandum in Support [Docs. 22 & 23] and
Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum
in Support [Docs. 24 & 25]. Frances Mary Valle
(“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the
decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“the
ALJ”), the final decision of Defendant Andrew M. Saul
(“the Commissioner”). For the reasons that
follow, the Court will DENY
Plaintiff’s motion and GRANT the
September 27, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq.,
alleging disability beginning on July 1, 2011. [Tr.
163–66]. After her application was denied initially and
upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
ALJ. [Tr. 112–13]. A hearing was held on January 16,
2014 before ALJ John Dowling. [Tr. 59–90]. On February
10, 2014, ALJ Dowling found that Plaintiff was not disabled.
[Tr. 42–53]. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff’s request for review on February 2, 2015.
exhausting her administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed a
Complaint with this Court on August 28, 2015, seeking
judicial review of the Commissioner’s final decision
under Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act. See
[Doc. 1] in Valle v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., No. 3:15-cv-388-PLR-HBG; see also [Tr.
913–18]. On August 30, 2016, the Court accepted
Magistrate Judge Guyton’s report and recommendation,
and remanded Plaintiff’s case with instructions to
further consider the opinion of her treating rheumatologist,
Nguyet-Anh (Theresa) Tran, M.D., and for a new evaluation of
Plaintiff’s RFC. See Valle v. Colvin, No.
3:15-CV-388-PLR-HBG, 2016 WL 4534875, at *4–5 (E.D.
Tenn. July 27, 2016), report and recommendation adopted
by, 2016 WL 4536877 (E.D. Tenn. Aug. 30, 2016).
November 10, 2016, the Appeals Council remanded
Plaintiff’s case to ALJ Mary Ellis Richardson for
further proceedings consistent with this Court’s Order.
[Tr. 909–12]. A hearing was held before ALJ Richardson
on March 1, 2017. [Tr. 810–40]. On May 23, 2017, ALJ
Richardson issued a partially favorable decision, and found
Plaintiff to be disabled beginning April 9, 2014-but not
prior to that date. [Tr. 779–97]. The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff’s request for review on March 15, 2018
[Tr. 764–66], and she subsequently filed a Complaint
with this Court on April 4, 2018 [Doc. 1]. The parties have
filed competing dispositive motions, and this matter is now
ripe for adjudication.
May 23, 2017 disability decision, ALJ Richardson made the
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 the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et
seq. and 416.971 et seq.).
3. Since the alleged onset date of disability, July 1, 2011,
the claimant has had the following severe impairments:
rheumatoid arthritis, depression, and anxiety (20 CFR
404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. Since the alleged onset date of disability, July 1, 2011,
the claimant has not had 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, 404.1526,
416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that prior to April 9, 2014, the date the
claimant became disabled, the claimant had the residual
functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in
20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except the claimant could
occasionally climb ramps or stairs. The claimant could never
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; could occasionally
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. The claimant could
occasionally reach in all directions with both upper
extremities; could frequently handle, finger, and feel with
bilateral upper extremities. The claimant should avoid all
exposure to workplace hazards, such as proximity to moving,
mechanical parts or working in high, exposed places. The
claimant was able to perform simple and detailed tasks.
6. After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that beginning on April 9, 2014, the
claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and
416.967(a) except the claimant could occasionally climb ramps
or stairs. The claimant could never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; could occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch,
or crawl. The claimant could occasionally reach in all
directions with both upper extremities; could frequently
handle, finger, and feel with bilateral upper extremities.
The claimant should avoid all exposure to workplace hazards
such as exposure to moving, mechanical parts or working in
high, exposed places. The claimant is able to perform simple
and detailed tasks. The claimant would require hourly breaks
throughout the workday.
7. Since July 1, 2011, the claimant has been unable to
perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
8. Prior to the established disability onset date of April 9,
2014, the claimant was a “younger individual age
45-49”. On December 16, 2015, the claimant turned fifty
years of age and entered the category of “closely
approaching advanced age” (20 CFR 404.1563 and
9. The claimant has at least a high school education and is
able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
10. Prior to April 9, 2014, 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.
Beginning on April 9, 2014, the claimant has not been able to
transfer job skills to other occupations (See SSR 82-41 and
20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
11. Prior to April 9, 2014, 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 404.1569a, 416.969, and
12. Beginning on April 9, 2014, considering the
claimant’s age, education, work experience, and
residual functional capacity, there are no jobs that existed
in significant numbers in the national economy that the
claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569 and 404.1569a, 416.969,
13. The claimant was not disabled prior to April 9, 2014, but
became disabled on that date and has continued to be disabled
through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and
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 ...