United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville
ERIN B. DILLINGER, 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. 19]. Now before the Court
are Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment and
Memorandum in Support [Docs. 16 & 17] and
Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum
in Support [Docs. 21 & 22]. Erin B. Dillinger
(“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
previously filed an application for disability insurance
benefits on October 11, 2011, as well as an application for
supplemental security income on November 15, 2011. [Tr. 12].
In both applications, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning
on June 1, 2009. [Id.]. On April 17, 2013, ALJ Mary
C. Montanus issued a partially favorable decision, finding
that Plaintiff was not disabled from June 1, 2009 through
July 31, 2011. [Id.]; see [Tr.
77–99]. However, ALJ Montanus found that Plaintiff
became disabled on August 1, 2011, but that medical
improvement occurred on December 28, 2012, and Plaintiff was
no longer disabled as of that date. [Id.]. Plaintiff
did not appeal this finding of partial disability.
January 28, 2014, 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 June I, 2009. [Tr. 12,
203–11]. After her application was denied initially and
upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
ALJ. [Tr. 155]. A hearing was held on February 8, 2017. [Tr.
37–77]. On August 29, 2017, ALJ Joan A. Lawrence found
that Plaintiff was not disabled. [Tr. 12–23]. ALJ
Lawrence applied res judicata and found that the previous
ALJ’s decision was final as to the period between June
1, 2009 and December 27, 2012, and “addresse[d]
December 28, 2012 through the claimant’s date last
insured.” [Tr. 12]. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff’s request for review on April 6, 2018 [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 July 13, 2018, 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 last met the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act on June 30, 2016.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful
activity during the period from her alleged onset date of
December 28, 2012 through her date last insured of June 30,
2016 (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the
following severe impairments: psoriatic arthritis,
osteoarthritis in hips and right knee, asthma, degenerative
disc disease, diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, depression (20
4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have
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).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that, through the date last insured, the
claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except that she
can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and climb
stairs; must avoid extreme temperatures, humidity, vibration,
and hazards; avoid dust, fumes, smoke, and other pulmonary
irritants; no crawling, climbing, ladders, or overhead work;
can do simple work; and can deal with change one-third of the
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 April 21, 1979 and was 37 years
old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-40, 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 has 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 December 28, 2012
through June 30, 2016, the date last insured (20 CFR
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).