United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville
KRISTEN WOLFENBARGER, o/b/o MICHAEL WOLFENBARGER Deceased Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ACCORDINGLY, 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. 14]. Now before the Court
are Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment and
Memorandum in Support [Docs. 15 & 16] and
Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum
in Support [Docs. 18 & 19]. Plaintiff additionally filed
a Response [Doc. 20] to Defendant’s Motion for Summary
Judgment. Kristen Wolfenbarger (“Plaintiff”), on
behalf of Michael Wolfenbarger (“Wolfenbarger”),
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 Commissioner’s motion.
January 13, 2015, Wolfenbarger 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 April 15, 2015. [Tr. 12].
After his application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration, Wolfenbarger requested a hearing before an
ALJ. [Tr. 83–85]. A hearing was held on February 14,
2017. [Tr. 28–43]. Michael Wolfenbarger passed away on
March 20, 2017. [Tr. 171], and his widow, Kristen
Wolfenbarger, subsequently filed a Notice Regarding
Substitution of Party [Tr. 134] on April 9, 2017.
November 21, 2017, the ALJ found that Wolfenbarger was not
disabled until November 28, 2016, when he reached the age of
55 and qualified for benefits pursuant to Rule 202.04 of the
Medical Vocational Guidelines. [Tr. 8–22]. The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review on July
18, 2018 [Tr. 1–5], making the ALJ’s decision the
final decision of the Commissioner. Having exhausted her
administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed a Complaint with
this Court on August 9, 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
made the following findings:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2019.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful
activity after alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et
3. Since the alleged onset date of disability, April 15,
2015, through the date of his death on March 20, 2017, the
claimant had the following severe impairments: back pain,
knee pain, status-post knee replacement, osteoarthritis,
diabetes mellitus with neuropathy, and repressive disorder
(20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. Since the alleged onset date of disability, April 15,
2015, 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, 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that from April 15, 2015, through the date
of his death, the claimant had the residual functional
capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(b) except that he could occasionally perform
bending, stooping, kneeling, squatting, crouching, crawling,
and climbing. He could deal with people one-third of the
6. From April 15, 2015, through March 20, 2017, the claimant
was unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR
7. Prior to the established disability onset date, the
claimant was an individual closely approaching advanced age.
On November 28, 2016, the claimant’s age category
changed to an individual of advanced age (20 CFR 404.1563).
8. The claimant had at least a high school education and was
able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).
9. Transferability of job skills was not an issue in this
case because the claimant’s past relevant work was
unskilled (20 CFR 404.1568).
10. Prior to November 28, 2016, the date the claimant’s
age category changed, 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. Beginning on November 28, 2016, the date the
claimant’s age category changed, considering the
claimant’s age, education, work experience, and
residual functional capacity, there were no jobs that existed
in significant numbers in the national economy that the
claimant could have performed (20 CFR 404.1560(c) and
12. The claimant was not disabled prior to November 28, 2016,
but became disabled on that date and he continued to be
disabled through the date of his death on March 20, 2017. His
disability was expected to last twelve months past the onset
date (20 CFR 404.1520(g)).
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).
is 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(1)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant 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 ...