United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Winchester
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
K. LEE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Sandra Miller (“Plaintiff”) brought this action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c) seeking
judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner” or
“Defendant”) denying her disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”). Each party has moved for judgment [Docs.
15 & 19], and filed supporting briefs [Docs. 16 &
20]. For the reasons stated below: (1) Plaintiff's motion
for summary judgment [Doc. 15] will be
DENIED; (2) the Commissioner's motion
for summary judgment [Doc. 19] will be
GRANTED; and (3) the decision of the
Commissioner will be AFFIRMED.
to the administrative record [Doc. 11 (“Tr.”)],
Plaintiff filed her applications for DIB and SSI on October
20, 2015, alleging disability beginning October 5, 2013.
Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and on
reconsideration at the agency level. Plaintiff requested a
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), which was held on September 6, 2017, in
Chattanooga, Tennessee. On January 31, 2018, the ALJ found
Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social
Security Act at any time from the alleged onset date through
the date of the decision.
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. Plaintiff timely filed the instant action.
Education and Employment Background
was born August 23, 1959 (Tr. 188). She has at least a high
school education, and is able to communicate in English. She
has past relevant work as a janitor and as a quality control
inspector, both of which are considered semi-skilled
occupations in the Dictionary of Occupational
Titles (“DOT”). The janitor
occupation is considered a medium exertional level job in the
DOT, and the quality control inspector occupation is
considered a light exertional level job.
Disability Report, Plaintiff alleged disability due to
anxiety, depression, and a bulging disc (Tr. 272). While
there is no need to summarize the medical records herein, the
relevant records have been reviewed.
hearing before the ALJ on September 6, 2017, Plaintiff and a
vocational expert (“VE”) testified. Plaintiff was
represented by counsel at the hearing. The Court has
carefully reviewed the transcript of the hearing (Tr. 27-52).
ELIGIBILITY AND THE ALJ'S FINDINGS
Social Security Act defines a disability as 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 12 months.'”
Schmiedebusch v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 536
Fed.Appx. 637, 646 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A)); see also Parks v. Soc. Sec. Admin.,
413 Fed.Appx. 856, 862 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A)). A claimant is disabled “only 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.”
Parks, 413 Fed.Appx. at 862 (quoting 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(2)(A)). The Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) determines eligibility for disability
benefits by following a five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The five-step process provides:
1) If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, the
claimant is not disabled.
2) If the claimant does not have a severe medically
determinable physical or mental impairment-i.e., an
impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities-the claimant is
3) If the claimant has a severe impairment(s) that meets or
equals one of the listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the
regulations and meets the duration requirement, the claimant
4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him or
her from doing his or her past relevant work, the claimant is
5) If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, the
claimant is not disabled.
Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 582 F.3d 647, 652
(6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). The claimant bears the
burden to show the extent of his impairments, but at step
five, the Commissioner bears the burden to show that,
notwithstanding those impairments, there are jobs the
claimant is capable of performing. See Ealy v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec, 594 F.3d 504, 512-13 (6th Cir. 2010)
The ALJ's Findings
one of the five-step process, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged
onset date, October 5, 2013, although she had performed a
limited amount of work as a cashier in 2016. At step two, the
ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: (1)
lumbar spine L5-S1 multi-level spondylosis with hypertrophy,
(2) L4-5 grade 2 anterolisthesis with degenerative disc
disease, (3) depressive/bipolar disorder, (4)
anxiety/obsessive-compulsive disorder. At step three, the ALJ
found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1.
the ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and ...