United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR., CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is a Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 25)
in which the Magistrate Judge concludes that the Court should
deny Charles Allen Rideout’s motion for judgment on the
administrative record (Doc. No. 19) and affirm the final
decision of the Commissioner. Rideout has timely filed
objections. (Doc. No. 26.) The Court has conducted a de
novo review of the record.
review of the ALJ’s analysis of Rideout’s medical
records and evidence, the Magistrate Judge concluded that the
ALJ correctly determined Rideout’s medically
determinable impairments were non-severe. (See Doc.
No. 25 at 8-19.) In addition, the Magistrate Judge found that
the ALJ gave sufficient reasons for discounting the opinion
of Rideout’s treating physician as inconsistent with
Rideout’s medical record. (Id. at 17-18, 20.)
Rideout objects that these findings were not supported by
substantial evidence and contends that his impairments
“should have been found severe.” (Doc. No. 26 at
1.) Rideout concedes that the Magistrate Judge and ALJ note
“various examinations” that were “normal,
” but cites to “some evidence” for
“exacerbation” of his disability that he believes
was not taken into account. (Id. at 2.) In
particular, Rideout cites the “most notable”
evidence of “severe spinal canal stenosis.”
(Id. at 1-2.) In sum, Rideout contends, both the
Magistrate Judge and the ALJ were overly stringent at the
second step of the disability determination
two of the sequential evaluation process, a plaintiff bears
the burden of showing that a medically determinable
impairment is severe and meets the twelve month durational
requirement. Harley v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.,
485 Fed.App’x 802, 803-04 (6th Cir. 2012); Fudge v.
Berryhill, No. 3:16-CV-00804, 2017 WL 3237746, at *6
(M.D. Tenn. July 31, 2017). A medically determinable
impairment or combination of impairments is
“severe” if it significantly limits an
individual’s physical or mental ability to do basic
work activities. Hayes v. Astrue, No. 2:08-0067,
2009 WL 1940820, at *5 (M.D. Tenn. July 1, 2009). In the
past, the step two severe impairment requirement has been
described as a “de minimis” hurdle.
Higgs v. Bowen, 880 F.2d 860, 862 (6th Cir. 1988).
However, as the Sixth Circuit has noted, “this lenient
interpretation of the severity requirement in part
represent[ed] the courts’ response to the
Secretary’s questionable practice in the early 1980s of
using the step two regulation to deny meritorious claims
without proper vocational analysis.” Long v.
Apfel, 1 Fed.Appx. 326, 331 (6th Cir. 2001) (citation
recently, courts have recognized that “not all
impairments are severe.” Wilkins v. Comm’r of
Soc. Sec., No. 13-12425, 2014 WL 2061156, at *13 (E.D.
Mich. May 19, 2014). Indeed, “[t]he mere existence of .
. . impairments . . . does not establish that [a claimant]
was significantly limited from performing basic work
activities for a continuous period of time.”
Despins v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 257
Fed.App’x 923, 929, 930 (6th Cir. 2007). Thus, the
Court of Appeals has affirmed findings of non-severe
impairment at step two when supported by substantial
evidence. See, e.g., Harley v. Comm’r of
Soc. Sec., 485 Fed.App’x 802, 803-804 (6th Cir.
2012) (affirming step two finding that claimant with chronic
pancreatitis, pain, and an opinion from his treating
physician of disability did not have severe impairment);
Despins, 257 Fed.App’x at 930 (affirming
finding of non-severe impairment for claimant with
“various medically determinable impairments, including
aortic stenosis, aortic valve and root replacement,
hypothyroidism, benign essential tremor, and residuals of
colon cancer”). Symptoms alone cannot constitute a
severe medically determinable impairment. SSR 96-4p, 1996 WL
374187, at *2 (S.S.A. July 2, 1996). Further, “[i]n
considering whether a claimant has a severe impairment, an
ALJ must not accept unsupported medical opinions or a
claimant’s subjective complaints.” Wilkins v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., No. 13-12425, 2014 WL
2061156, at *13 (E.D. Mich. May 19, 2014) (citations
the District Court is limited to determining whether the
Commissioner’s decision concerning the severity of
Rideout’s impairment is supported by substantial
evidence. “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)
(quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197,
229 (1938) (emphasis deleted)). “[T]he threshold for
such evidentiary sufficiency is not high.” Id.
at 1154. Substantial evidence is “more than a mere
scintilla.” Id. (citations omitted). “It
means – and means only – ‘such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.’” Id. (quoting
Consol. Edison, 305 U.S. at 229). The role of the
Court is to apply this standard, not “resolve conflicts
in evidence[ ] or decide questions of credibility.”
Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007).
the ALJ examined Rideout’s medically determinable
impairments, found that they were “non-severe, ”
and concluded that plaintiff was not disabled at step two of
the sequential evaluation. First, the ALJ addressed the
treatment history of the medical issues Rideout raises in the
Objections. (Doc. No. 12 at 20.) Among other things, he
discussed Rideout’s anxiety, depression, sleep apnea,
ADHD, bulging discs, hypertension, chest pain, diabetes,
heart disease, GERD, and hyperlipidemia, and found that
records revealed them all to be well-managed. Second, the ALJ
reviewed medical images and laboratory tests, including the
2016 CT scan that demonstrated spinal stenosis.
(Id.) He highlighted mild symptoms and incidental
findings. (Id.) Notably, he observed that there were
no significant clinical indications of physical limitations
associated with the test results. (Id.) Third, the
ALJ examined Rideout’s clinical signs and physical
examinations, and found that they did not show abnormal
concerns or limitations. (Id. at 20-21.) Fourth, the
ALJ found that evidence of Rideout’s mental status did
not show any signs of severe limitation. (Id. at
21.) Finally, the ALJ found that Rideout’s own
statements and claims about his level of impairment and
restrictions did not sufficiently support the allegations
(and, in several instances, contradicted them). (Id.
at 21-22.) Because the ALJ determined that Rideout’s
medically determinable impairments cause “mild”
limitation” at most in any functional area, he
concluded that they are non-severe. In reaching this
conclusion, the ALJ gave little weight to a July 2015 medical
source statement from Dr. Bal, Rideout’s treating
physician, that advised Rideout was severely limited.
(Id. at 22.) Citing “continuous[ ]”
reports of “normal” examinations made by Dr. Bal
and Rideout’s own conflicting reported activities,
ALJ found that Dr. Bal’s finding “directly
contradict[ed] the level of limitation reflected in the
medical record.” (Id.) The ALJ thus afforded
Dr. Bal’s opinion less weight relative to four
consulting experts who found Rideout’s limitations to
be non-severe. (Id.)
de novo review, the Court agrees with the Magistrate
Judge’s conclusions. The ALJ gave sufficient reasons
for concluding that Rideout’s alleged impairments were
non-severe. The ALJ was not bound by Dr. Bal’s opinion
to the extent it was inconsistent with a significant amount
of Rideout’s medical treatment record. Combs v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec, 459 F.3d 640, 652 (6th Cir.
2006) (citation omitted). More importantly, the Magistrate
Judge carefully set forth how the ALJ considered
Rideout’s complaints in the context of the whole of the
substantial evidence in the record. The Court is satisfied
that, at the very least, the ALJ’s determination was
reasonable and fell within the permissible “zone of
choice” based upon substantial evidence within which
the ALJ could “go either way, without interference by
the courts.” Blakley v. Comm’r of Soc.
Sec, 581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir. 2009). The Court must
affirm the Commissioner’s decision if it is based on
substantial evidence, even if there is substantial evidence
that would also have supported an opposite conclusion.
Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir.
2007). It is thus inappropriate to disturb the ALJ’s
Rideout’s Objections (Doc. No. 26) are
OVERRULED. The Report and Recommendation
(Doc. No. 25) is APPROVED AND ADOPTED. The
motion for judgment on the administrative record (Doc. No.
19) is DENIED and the final decision of the
Commissioner is AFFIRMED. The Clerk shall
enter judgment under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
 These objections are a reiteration of
Rideout’s briefing on the motion for judgment on the
administrative record, and thus were considered by the
Magistrate Judge. (Doc. Nos. 19-1, 23.)
 For example, Dr. Bal opined that
Rideout could only stand for 5 to 15 minutes at a time, but
Rideout testified that he continued to work on cars for