Parker v. Commissioner of Social Security
ORDER AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER. Signed by Chief Judge S. Thomas Anderson on 6/21/17. (Anderson, S. Thomas)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
MICHAEL LYNN PARKER,
Case No: 1:14-cv-01180-STA-cgc
ORDER AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER
Plaintiff Michael Lynn Parker filed this action to obtain judicial review of Defendant
Commissioner’s final decision denying his application for disability insurance benefits under
Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”) and an application for supplemental security income
(“SSI”) benefits based on disability under Title XVI of the Act. Plaintiff’s applications were
denied initially and upon reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. Plaintiff then
requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which was held on January 24,
2013. On April 2, 2013, the ALJ denied the claim. The Appeals Council subsequently denied his
request for review. Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the Commissioner’s final decision.
For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a claimant may obtain judicial review of any final decision
made by the Commissioner after a hearing to which he was a party. “The court shall have the
power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying,
or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the
cause for a rehearing.”1 The Court’s review is limited to determining whether there is substantial
evidence to support the Commissioner’s decision,2 and whether the correct legal standards were
Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.”4 It is “more than a mere scintilla of evidence, but less than a
preponderance.”5 The Commissioner, not the Court, is charged with the duty to weigh the
evidence, to make credibility determinations and resolve material conflicts in the testimony, and
to decide the case accordingly.6
When substantial evidence supports the Commissioner’s
determination, it is conclusive, even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite
Plaintiff was born on May 13, 1963, and has a high school education. He alleges
disability due to back, knee, neck, hip, shoulder problems, carpel tunnel, sleep apnea, high blood
pressure, and obesity. His last job involved picking up heavy equipment and transformers.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997). See also Landsaw v. Sec’y of Health &
Human Servs, 803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th Cir. 1986).
Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
Bell v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 105 F.3d 244, 245 (6th Cir. 1996) (citing Consolidated Edison Co.
v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).
Walters v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997); Crum v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d
642, 644 (6th Cir. 1990); Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984).
Warner v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004).
The ALJ made the following findings: (1) Plaintiff met the insured status requirements
through December 31, 2014; (2) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the
alleged onset date; (3) Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: obstructive sleep apnea,
degenerative joint disease (knee), disorders of the back, status post rotator cuff injury, and
obesity; but he does not have impairments, either alone or in combination, that meet or equal the
requirements of any listed impairment contained in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 of the
listing of impairments; (4) Plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity to perform light work
as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that he is limited to demands of
unskilled work; (5) Plaintiff is unable to perform his past relevant work; (6) Plaintiff was a
younger individual with a high school education on the alleged onset date; (7) 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 Plaintiff is not disabled whether or not he has
transferable job skills; (8) considering Plaintiff’s age, education, work experience, and residual
functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that
Plaintiff can perform; (9) Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Act at any time
through the date of this decision.8
The Social Security Act defines disability as the inability to engage in substantial gainful
activity.9 The claimant bears the ultimate burden of establishing an entitlement to benefits.10
The initial burden of going forward is on the claimant to show that he is disabled from engaging
in his former employment; the burden of going forward then shifts to the Commissioner to
R. 11 – 17.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1).
Born v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs, 923 F.2d 1168, 1173 (6th Cir. 1990).
demonstrate the existence of available employment compatible with the claimant’s disability and
The Commissioner conducts the following, five-step analysis to determine if an
individual is disabled within the meaning of the Act:
1. An individual who is engaging in substantial gainful activity will not be found to be
disabled regardless of medical findings.
2. An individual 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 an
individual 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
4. An individual who can perform work that he has done in the past will not be found to
5. If an individual cannot perform his or her 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.12
Further review is not necessary if it is determined that an individual is not disabled at
any point in this sequential analysis.13 Here, the sequential analysis proceeded to the fifth step
with a finding that, although Plaintiff cannot perform his past relevant work, a substantial
number of jobs exists in the national economy that he can perform.
Plaintiff argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ’s findings.
specifically argues that the ALJ erred by improperly weighing the medical evidence and by
improperly assessing his credibility. Plaintiff’s arguments are not persuasive.
Willbanks v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs, 847 F.2d 301 (6th Cir. 1988).
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a).
Medical opinions are to be weighed by the process set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c).
Under the treating physician rule, an ALJ must give controlling weight to the opinion of a
claimant’s treating physician if it “is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in
[the claimant’s] case record.”14 The term “not inconsistent” is meant to convey that “a wellsupported treating source medical opinion need not be supported directly by all of the other
evidence, (i.e., it does not have to be consistent with all the other evidence) as long as there is no
other substantial evidence in the case record that contradicts or conflicts with the opinion.”15
If an ALJ decides that the opinion of a treating source should not be given controlling
weight, the ALJ must take certain factors into consideration when determining how much weight
to give the opinion, including “the length of the treatment relationship and the frequency of
examination, the nature and extent of the treatment relationship, supportability of the opinion,
consistency of the opinion with the record as a whole, and the specialization of the treating
source.”16 Any decision denying benefits “must contain specific reasons for the weight given to
the treating source’s medical opinion, supported by the evidence in the case record, and must be
sufficiently specific to make clear to any subsequent reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave to
the treating source’s medical opinion and the reasons for that weight.”17
20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2).
Soc. Sec. Rul. 96–2P, 1996 WL 374188 at *3 (July 2, 1996).
Wilson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004).
Soc. Sec. Rul. 96–2P, 1996 WL 374188 at *5 (July 2, 1996).
Generally, an opinion from a medical source who has examined a claimant is given more
weight than that from a source who has not performed an examination,18 and an opinion from a
medical source who regularly treats the claimant is afforded more weight than that from a source
who has examined the claimant but does not have an ongoing treatment relationship.19 In other
words, “[t]he regulations provide progressively more rigorous tests for weighing opinions as the
ties between the source of the opinion and the individual become weaker.”20 Opinions from
nontreating sources are not assessed for “controlling weight.”
Instead, these opinions are
weighed based on specialization, consistency, supportability, and any other factors “which tend
to support or contradict the opinion” may be considered in assessing any type of medical
opinion.21 State agency consultants are highly qualified specialists who are also experts in the
Social Security disability programs, and their opinions may be entitled to great weight if the
evidence supports their opinions.22
In the present case, Plaintiff has not pointed to any reports or opinions from his treating
physicians suggesting that he has limitations greater than those imposed by the ALJ. Therefore,
there is no dispute that the ALJ adequately weighed the opinions of Plaintiff’s treating
20 C.F.R. § 404.1502, 404.1527(c)(1).
Id. § 404.1502, 404.1527(c)(2).
Soc. Sec. Rul. No. 96–6p, 1996 WL 374180 at *2.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c).
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(e)(2)(i); Soc. Sec. Rul. 96-6p, 1996 WL 374180, 61 Fed. Reg.
34,466-01 (July 2, 1996).
The ALJ gave significant weight to the opinion of consultant Dr. Deborah Webster-Clair
that Plaintiff retained the ability to perform light work, although he rejected Dr. Webster-Clair’s
reaching limitation on the ground that it was not supported by the longitudinal record. The ALJ
also looked at the consultative report from consultant Leonard Hayden, M.D., who examined
Plaintiff in November 2010. This opinion was rendered prior to Plaintiff’s surgery, and the ALJ
found that the record suggested limitations beyond those found by Dr. Hayden; therefore, he
properly gave the opinion less weight.
Substantial evidence supports the weight given to the medical evidence and opinions in
the record and the evaluation of Plaintiff’s physical residual functional capacity. The ALJ
properly determined that Plaintiff could perform light unskilled work, and Plaintiff has failed to
show that he is otherwise more limited.
A claimant’s credibility comes into question when his “complaints regarding symptoms,
or their intensity and persistence, are not supported by objective medical evidence.”23 To assess
credibility, the ALJ must consider “the entire case record,” including “any medical signs and lab
findings, the claimant’s own complaints of symptoms, any information provided by the treating
physicians and others, as well as any other relevant evidence contained in the record.”24 This
Court is required to “accord the ALJ’s determinations of credibility great weight and deference
particularly since the ALJ has the opportunity, which we do not, of observing a witness’s
demeanor while testifying,”25 although the ALJ’s credibility finding must find support in the
Rogers v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 247 (6th Cir. 2007).
Jones v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 476 (6th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted).
In assessing Plaintiff’s credibility, the ALJ pointed out that Dr. Hayden noted that
Plaintiff made a “very questionable attempt” at performing clinical tests, like twisting his back,
and appeared to “not be giving his full effort” during squatting testing.26 The ALJ could
properly rely on evidence of exaggeration as a factor negatively impacting Plaintiff’s
Dr. Scott Johnson criticized Plaintiff for failing to attend prescribed physical therapy that
Dr. Johnson felt would have resolved Plaintiff’s shoulder complaints.28 Plaintiff’s failure to
follow treatment that would have resolved his complaints also supports the ALJ’s negative
The ALJ noted that Plaintiff had blamed his shoulder problems for his inability to work,
but Plaintiff worked for several years after a series of shoulder surgeries in 2007 and 2008.30
During his hearing, Plaintiff admitted that he had been fired from his last job because he had
See Jones v. Astrue, 2008 WL 4552478 at *15 (M.D. Tenn. Oct. 7, 2008) (exaggerated
complaints with symptom magnification among credibility factors properly considered by ALJ).
See Ranellucci v. Astrue, 2012 WL 4484937 at *4 (M.D. Tenn. July 12, 2012), report and
recommendation adopted, 2012 WL 4484922 (M.D. Tenn. Sept. 27, 2012) (citing failure to
follow treatment as one of several credibility factors).
R. 27, 164.
fallen asleep on the job.31 The ALJ could consider evidence that Plaintiff left his last job because
he was fired rather than because of his alleged impairments.32
The Court finds no error in the ALJ’s credibility determination because Plaintiff did not
provide objective medical evidence to establish the intensity and persistence of his alleged
symptoms, and the record as a whole does not indicate that his condition was of disabling
severity. Although Plaintiff presented objective medical evidence of an underlying medical
condition and the ALJ found that his impairments could reasonably cause the kind of limitations
alleged by Plaintiff, Plaintiff’s statements about the intensity, persistence, and limiting effect of
his alleged symptoms were not entirely credible because they were inconsistent with the
evidence of record. The ALJ carefully considered the record as a whole, including Plaintiff’s
work history, treatment history, and evidence that he failed to give full effort during medical
examinations. Accordingly, the ALJ’s credibility determination is supported by substantial
At step five, the Commissioner must identify a significant number of jobs in the economy
that accommodate the claimant’s residual functional capacity and vocational profile.33 The
Commissioner may carry this burden by applying the medical-vocational grids34 which directs a
conclusion of “disabled” or “not disabled” based on the claimant’s age and education and on
Plaintiff told the ALJ that he had sleep apnea that caused sleepiness, but he did not submit any
treatment records for this condition. R. 27.
See O’Neill v. Colvin, 2014 WL 3510982 at *23 (N.D. Ohio July 9, 2014) (“The ALJ also
noted that the records indicated that Plaintiff reported that he was laid off from his job and filed
for disability because his unemployment compensation ran out, while other records indicated that
Plaintiff reported that he quit his job because of back pain.”).
Jones, 336 F.3d at 474.
20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 2.
whether the claimant has transferable work skills.35 The grids take administrative notice of a
significant number of unskilled jobs a claimant can perform given his residual functional
capacity.36 Here, the grids direct a finding of not disabled for a person of Plaintiff’s age,
education, work history, and residual functional capacity.37 Accordingly, substantial evidence
supports the ALJ’s determination that Plaintiff was not disabled, and the decision of the
Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/ S. Thomas Anderson
S. THOMAS ANDERSON
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Date: June 21, 2017.
Wright v. Massanari, 321 F.3d 611, 615 (6th Cir. 2003); Burton v. Sec’y of Health & Human
Servs., 893 F.2d 821, 822 (6th Cir. 1990).
See 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart p, appendix 2, § 200.00(b); Social Security Ruling 85-15,
See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 2, Rule 202.21.
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