Day v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner of
MEMORANDUM OPINION: Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record [Doc. 29 ] will be DENIED, the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 34 ] will be GRANTED, and the decision of the ALJ is AFFIRMED. Judgment will be entered in favor of the Commissioner. Signed by Magistrate Judge Christopher H Steger on 9/16/2022. (BJL)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
MELISSA MARIE DAY,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security
Case No: 2:20-cv-249
Judge Christopher H. Steger
Plaintiff Melissa Marie Day seeks judicial review under § 205(g) of the Social Security
Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), from her denial of disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration under Titles II and
XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34, 1381-83f. [See Doc. 1]. The parties consented to the entry
of final judgment by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c),
with a right of direct appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. [Doc. 22].
For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record
[Doc. 29] will be DENIED, the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 34] will be
GRANTED, and judgment will be entered AFFIRMING the Commissioner's decision.
On November 8, 2017, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability
as of January 1, 2015. (Tr. 75). Plaintiff's claims were denied initially as well as on reconsideration.
(Tr. 22). As a result, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. Id.
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At a hearing on December 2, 2019, that included Plaintiff's attorneys, Plaintiff amended
the alleged onset date to November 8, 2017. Id. Administrative Law Judge Randi Lappin (the
"ALJ") heard testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (Tr. 22, 36). The ALJ then rendered
her decision on April 8, 2020, finding that Plaintiff was "not disabled" as defined by the Act. (Tr.
Following the ALJ's decision, Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the
denial; but that request was denied. (Tr. 1). Exhausting her administrative remedies, Plaintiff then
filed her Complaint [Doc. 1] on November 9, 2020, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's
final decision under § 405(g). The parties filed competing dispositive motions, and this matter is
ripe for adjudication.
Findings by the ALJ
The ALJ made the following findings concerning Plaintiff's application for benefits:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security
Act through December 31, 2019.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November
8, 2017, the alleged onset date (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq. and 416.971
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: lumbar degenerative
disc disease and degenerative joint disease, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome,
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD") with chronic bronchitis,
cardiac arrhythmia, pelvic adhesive disease, and obesity (20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does 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. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525,
404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has
the residual functional capacity to lift, carry, push, and pull up to 5 pounds
frequently and up to 10 pounds occasionally. She can sit for about 6 hours
Commonly referred to as, and hereinafter, "The Listings."
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out of an 8-hour workday, as well as stand and/or walk for a combined
cumulative total of up to about 2 hours out of an 8-hour workday. She can
sit without interruption for no more than about 30 minutes, followed by an
opportunity to stand and stretch briefly (1 to 2 minutes), without leaving the
work station and remaining on task; she can stand and/or walk without
interruption for a combined uninterrupted total of no more than about 15
minutes, followed by an opportunity to sit for up to 5 minutes, while
remaining on task. The claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, crouch,
kneel, crawl and climb ramps and stairs, but she can never climb ladders,
ropes or scaffolds. The claimant can reach overhead occasionally and in all
other directions frequently, bilaterally. She can handle, finger, feel and
operate hand controls frequently, bilaterally. The claimant can tolerate no
more than occasional exposure to extreme temperatures or respiratory
irritants, and can never use vibrating hand tools.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 C.F.R. §§
404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on June 15, 1971, and was 46 years old, which is
defined as a younger individual age 45-49, on the alleged disability onset
date (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate
in English (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1564 and 416.964).
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. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App.
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual
functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy that the claimant can perform (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1569,
404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined by the Social
Security Act, from November 8, 2017, through the date of this decision (20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).
(Tr. at 25-36).
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Standard of Review
This case involves an application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and
supplemental security income ("SSI"). An individual qualifies for DIB if they: (1) are insured for
DIB; (2) have not reached the age of retirement; (3) have filed an application for DIB; and (4) are
disabled. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1). An individual qualifies for SSI if they: (1) are aged, blind, or
disabled; and (2) have income and resources that do not exceed specific limits. 42 U.S.C. §
1382(a). The definition of disabled is the same for DIB and SSI. Compare 42 U.S.C. § 423(d) with
The determination of disability is an administrative decision. To establish a disability,
plaintiffs must show that they are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to the
existence of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result
in death or that 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); Abbot v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990).
The Commissioner employs a five-step sequential evaluation to determine whether an adult
claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The following five issues are addressed in
order: (1) if a claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity, they are not disabled; (2) if a
claimant does not have a severe impairment, they are not disabled; (3) if the claimant's impairment
meets or equals a listed impairment, they are disabled; (4) if the claimant is capable of returning
to work they have done in the past, they are not disabled; (5) if the claimant can do other work that
exists in significant numbers in the regional or the national economy, they are not disabled. Id. If,
at one step, an ALJ makes a dispositive finding, the inquiry ends without proceeding to the next.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; 416.920; Skinner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 902 F.2d 447, 44950 (6th Cir. 1990). Once, however, the claimant makes a prima facie case that they cannot return
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to their former occupation, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that there is work
in the national economy that the claimant can perform considering their age, education, and work
experience. Richardson v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 735 F.2d 962, 964 (6th Cir. 1984);
Noe v. Weinberger, 512 F.2d 588, 595 (6th Cir. 1975).
The standard of judicial review is whether substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's findings and whether the Commissioner made any legal errors in the process of
reaching their decision. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (adopting and
defining substantial evidence standard in the context of Social Security cases); Landsaw v. Sec'y
of Health and Human Servs., 803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th Cir. 1986). Even if there is contrary evidence,
the Commissioner's findings must be affirmed if evidence exists to support the Commissioner's
findings. Ross v. Richardson, 440 F.2d 690, 691 (6th Cir. 1971). Courts may not reweigh the
evidence and substitute their judgment for that of the Commissioner because substantial evidence
exists to support a different conclusion. The substantial evidence standard allows considerable
latitude to administrative decision-makers. It presupposes a "zone of choice" within which
decision-makers can go either way without court interference. Felisky v. Bowen, 35 F.3d 1027 (6th
Cir. 1994) (citing Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 548 (6th Cir. 1986)); Crisp v. Sec'y, Health and
Human Servs., 790 F.2d 450 n.4 (6th Cir. 1986).
Courts may consider any evidence in the record, regardless of whether the ALJ cited to it.
See Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 535 (6th Cir. 2001). But courts may not consider
evidence that was not before the ALJ. Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 357 (6th Cir. 2001). Courts
are also not obligated to scour the record for errors not identified by the claimant. Howington v.
Astrue, No. 2:08-cv-189, 2009 WL 2579620, at *6 (E.D. Tenn. August 18, 2009) (stating that
assignments of error not made by claimant were waived). Further, "issues [that] are 'adverted to in
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a perfunctory manner, unaccompanied by some effort at developed argumentation, are deemed
waived,'" Kennedy v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 87 F. App'x 464, 466 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting United
States v. Elder, 90 F.3d 1110, 1118 (6th Cir. 1996)).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to assess Plaintiff's fibromyalgia at Step Two in
accordance with Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 12-2p. Plaintiff also claims that the ALJ failed to
meet her Step Five burden to prove Plaintiff can perform other work that exists in significant
numbers in the national economy. The Court will address the issues in turn.
The ALJ's assessment of fibromyalgia at Step Two
Plaintiff's initial issue is that the ALJ erred in her analysis regarding SSR 12-2p II.B. [Doc.
30 at 5-6]. Plaintiff claims that she meets the criteria for having the medically determinable
impairment of fibromyalgia despite the ALJ stating that "the evidence does not indicate
documentation of repeated manifestations of six or more fibromyalgia symptoms, signs, or cooccurring conditions." Id. at 6 (quoting Tr. 25-26). Plaintiff points to evidence that she matches
more than six of the listed criteria, including headache, fatigue, weakness, unspecified fever,
depression, anxiety disorder, gastroesophageal reflux disease ("GERD"), wheezing, shortness of
breath, insomnia, migraine headaches, heartburn, numbness and tingling, joint pain, muscle aches,
chest pain, and nausea. Id. Plaintiff also contends she meets the SSR 12-2p II.B. requirement of a
history of widespread pain. Id.
SSR 12-2p II. states that a claimant can show they have fibromyalgia if (1) it is diagnosed
by a physician, (2) the physician provides the evidence described in section II.B., and (3) the
diagnosis is not inconsistent with the other evidence in the case record. SSR 12-2p II.B. states that
what the physician must show is (1) a history of widespread pain, (2) repeated manifestations of
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six or more fibromyalgia symptoms, signs, or co-occurring conditions, and (3) evidence that other
disorders that could cause these repeated manifestations of symptoms, signs, or co-occurring
conditions were excluded.
The only medical record from Plaintiff that addresses fibromyalgia is from an August 28,
2019 appointment with Dr. Lori Church. Dr. Church noted under "Assessment" that fibromyalgia
was a new assessment; under "Examination" she noted tenderness to palpation in fewer than six
locations. No further information regarding fibromyalgia was included in the August 28, 2019,
record. In the medical record from a September 30, 2019, appointment with Dr. Church,
fibromyalgia was no longer listed under "Assessment," even though other medical assessments
from previous visits remained in that section.
While Plaintiff strongly asserts that she meets the "history of widespread pain" and
"repeated manifestations" criteria, she entirely ignores the third requirement – evidence that other
disorders were excluded as causing the repeated manifestations. Because Dr. Church did not
provide evidence that other causal disorders were excluded, the ALJ properly excluded
fibromyalgia in the Step Two analysis. Further, a review of the record reveals that Plaintiff's
symptoms, signs, and co-occurring conditions frequently appear more likely to have been caused
by other disorders. For example, records from November 28, 2017, show Plaintiff had "headaches,
fatigue, and body aches." (Tr. 480). But Plaintiff was diagnosed with sinusitis because she also
had "cough, cold symptoms, fever, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, sinus tenderness,
[and] sinus drainage. Id. Plus, Plaintiff's reported that all these symptoms "began 1 week ago." Id.
Similarly, records from October 16, 2018, show wheezing on examination. (Tr. 735-39). However,
Dr. Church's assessment attributes this to COPD. Id. These are two examples are merely
illustrative, not exhaustive. Ultimately, a thorough and systematic elimination of other causes for
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signs, symptoms, and co-occurring conditions is needed to make a worthwhile determination
regarding fibromyalgia, which is why one is required by SSR 12-2p.
Therefore, even if the ALJ erred in her evaluation of the "repeated manifestations of six or
more fibromyalgia symptoms, signs, or co-occurring conditions"—which has not been decided
one way or another here—such error would be harmless because substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's conclusion that fibromyalgia was not properly established as a medically determinable
impairment for purposes of Step Two.
Ability to perform other work that exists in significant numbers
At Step Five, the ALJ identified three jobs as existing in significant numbers in the national
economy that Plaintiff could still perform. (Tr. 24, 34-36). Plaintiff asserts errors related to these
three jobs—appointment clerk, addresser, and document preparer. [Doc. 30 at 8-10].
In contesting the job of appointment clerk, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ did not make
required findings in her written decision that Plaintiff had the skills necessary to perform the job.
Id. at 9. The relevant SSR states:
Transferability of skills is an issue only when an individual's impairment(s), though
severe, does not meet or equal the criteria in the Listing of Impairments in Appendix
1 of the regulations but does prevent the performance of past relevant work, and
that work has been determined to be skilled or semiskilled. . . . When the issues of
skills and their transferability must be decided, the adjudicator or ALJ is required
to make certain findings of fact and include them in the written decision.
The ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments are severe (Tr. 25), do not meet or equal the
relevant criteria in The Listings (Tr. 28), but do prevent the performance of past relevant work (Tr.
34). Additionally, the vocational expert identified the job of appointment clerk as being
semiskilled. (Tr. 64). Therefore, Plaintiff is correct that the ALJ was required to make certain
findings of fact that the ALJ did not include in her written decision. Compare SSR 82-41 Topic 6
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with (Tr. 34-36). As such, the job of appointment clerk provides no support for the ALJ's
conclusion that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that
Plaintiff can perform.
Regarding the jobs of addresser and document preparer, Plaintiff points to cases from
various jurisdictions finding these jobs to be obsolete. [Doc. 30 at 10]. Additionally, she claims
that the Social Security Administration's own 2011 study affirms that the job of addresser "does
not currently exist in significant numbers in the national economy." Id.
Regarding the decisions of other courts, the Court notes the persuasive nature of the cases
from district courts outside the Sixth Circuit. However, the Court is bound by Sixth Circuit
precedent. First, the Sixth Circuit case cited by Plaintiff does not wholly support her claim of
obsolescence. In Cunningham v. Astrue, the Sixth Circuit remanded a case to the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration for a determination of whether substantial evidence
supported the finding that a significant number of document preparer jobs existed in the national
economy. 360 F. App'x 606, 616 (6th Cir. 2010). No finding of obsolescence was entered. Second,
the Sixth Circuit has limited the application of Cunningham through two subsequent cases—Kyle
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 609 F.3d 847 (6th Cir. 2010) and O'Neal v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 799 F.
App'x 313 (6th Cir. 2020). Kyle and O'Neal make clear that an "ALJ can rely on the DOT to
establish that work exists in the national economy." O'Neal, 799 F. App'x at 317. Further, "an ALJ
can rely on vocational evidence provided by a vocational expert [if] the ALJ [verifies] that the
evidence does not conflict with the information in the DOT." Id. Since the ALJ made such a
verification here (Tr. 67), her findings regarding the jobs of addresser and document preparer are
proper. See O'Neal, 799 F. App'x at 317-18. Therefore, substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
finding regarding Plaintiff's ability to perform work that exists in significant numbers in the
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The Court notes, however, the plain common sense 2 reflected in Plaintiff's argument
regarding the Social Security Administration's 2011 study and the persuasiveness of her
obsolescence argument generally. Since the Court is bound by Sixth Circuit precedent, it would
point out the importance of cross-examining the vocational expert as discussed in O'Neal. 799 F.
App'x at 318.
Having reviewed the administrative record and the parties' briefs, Plaintiff's Motion for
Judgment on the Administrative Record [Doc. 29] will be DENIED, the Commissioner's
Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 34] will be GRANTED, and the decision of the ALJ is
AFFIRMED. Judgment will be entered in favor of the Commissioner.
/s/ Christopher H. Steger
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Plaintiff's characterization of the 2011 study is stronger than the Court's own assessment, but the Court
acknowledges that Plaintiff is raising a point that seems rational and persuasive.
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