United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
AARON J. ELLIOTT, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Aaron J. Elliott’s Motion for Judgment on
the Administrative Record (Doc. No. 13), to which the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”)
has responded (Doc. No. 15). Upon consideration of the
parties’ briefs and the transcript of the
administrative record (Doc. No. 9),  the motion will be denied
and the decision of the Commissioner’s decision will be
filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act
on September 14, 2016, alleging disability onset as of
December 20, 2005, due to post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”), asthma like symptoms, migraines,
depression, anxiety, and sleep apnea. (Tr. 12, 92-93, 168,
206.) Elliott’s claim was denied at the initial level
on November 7, 2016, and on reconsideration on April 26,
2017. (Tr. 12, 111, 119.) Elliott subsequently requested
de novo review of his case by an administrative law
judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 12, 121-22.) The ALJ heard
the case on February 6, 2018, when Elliott appeared with
counsel and gave testimony. (Tr. 12, 31-83.) Testimony was
also received by Elliott’s ex-wife and a vocational
expert. (Tr. 12, 63-82.) The ALJ issued a written decision
finding Elliott not disabled. (Tr. 12-26.) That decision
contains the following enumerated findings:
1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act on March 31, 2013.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful
activity during the period from his alleged onset date of
December 20, 2005 through his date last insured of March 31,
2013 (20 C.F.R. 404.1571 et seq.).
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the
following severe impairments: posttraumatic stress disorder,
asthma, and obesity (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 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20
C.F.R. 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 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 a
full range of work at all exertional levels but with the
following nonexertional limitations: He can never climb
ladders, ropes and scaffolds. He must avoid concentrated
exposure to extreme cold and extreme heat, dust, odors,
fumes, gases, smoke, and pulmonary irritants. He cannot work
with or near dangerous and moving type of equipment or
machinery, moving mechanical parts and unprotected heights
but can operate a motor vehicle. He can understand, remember
and apply simple to multi-step detailed instructions and
tasks. He can interact occasionally with supervisors,
co-workers and with the general public. He can maintain
concentration, persistence and pace for two hours at a time
over an eight-hour workday. He can adapt to infrequent
changes in a work setting.
6. Through the date last insured, the claimant was unable to
perform any past relevant work (20 C.F.R. 404.1565).
7. The claimant was born on July 21, 1983 and was 29 years
old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on
the date last insured (20 C.F.R. 404.1563).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is
able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. 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 C.F.R. 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 C.F.R. 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 20, 2005,
the alleged onset date, through March 31, 2013, the date last
insured (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(g)).
(Tr. 14, 15, 16-17, 24, 25, 26.) On June 19, 2018, the
Appeals Council denied Elliott’s request for review of
the ALJ’s decision (Tr. 1-8), thereby rendering that
decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
Standard of Review
Court is limited to determining whether the
Commissioner’s decision concerning Elliott’s
disability 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 Five-Step Inquiry
claimant bears the ultimate burden of establishing an
entitlement to benefits by proving his or her
“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). The claimant’s “physical or mental
impairment” must “result from anatomical,
physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are
demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory
diagnostic techniques.” Id. § 423(d)(3).
The Commissioner considers a claimant’s case under a
five-step sequential evaluation process, described by the
Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals as follows:
(1) a claimant who is engaging in substantial gainful
activity will not be found to be disabled regardless of
medical findings; (2) a claimant who does not have a severe
impairment will not be found to be disabled; (3) a finding of
disability will be made without consideration of vocational
factors, if a claimant is not working and is suffering from a
severe impairment which meets the duration requirement and
which meets or equals a listed impairment in Appendix 1 to
Subpart P of the Regulations. Claimants with lesser
impairments proceed to step four; (4) a claimant who can
perform work that he has done in the past will not be found
to be disabled; and (5) if a claimant cannot perform his past
work, other factors including age, education, past work
experience and residual functional capacity must be
considered to determine if other work can be performed.
Parks v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 413 Fed.App’x 856,
862 (6th Cir. 2011) (citing Cruse v. Comm’rof Soc. Sec., 502 F.3d 532, 539 (6th Cir. 2007)); 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520. The claimant bears the burden through
step four of proving the existence and severity of the
limitations her impairments cause and the fact that she
cannot perform past relevant work; however, at step five,
“the burden shifts to the Commissioner to
‘identify a significant number of jobs in the economy
that accommodate the claimant’s residual functional
capacity . . . .” Kepke v. Comm’r of Soc.