United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
J. HALE, JUDGE.
Leslie Jeffries filed this action seeking review of the
decision by the Commissioner of Social Security to deny
Jeffries' applications for disability insurance benefits
and supplemental security income. (Docket No. 1) The case was
referred to Magistrate Judge Colin H. Lindsay for report and
recommendation. Judge Lindsay issued his Findings of Fact,
Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation on September 29, 2017,
recommending that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed
and that Jeffries' complaint be dismissed with prejudice.
(D.N. 18) Jeffries timely filed objections to Judge
Lindsay's report and recommendation. (D.N. 19) For the
reasons set forth below, Jeffries' objections will be
overruled. After careful consideration, the Court will adopt
in full Judge Lindsay's Findings of Fact, Conclusions of
Law, and Recommendation.
30, 2013, Jeffries filed applications for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits.
(D.N. 12-5, PageID # 237-50) The Commissioner denied the
applications on July 3, 2013, and again upon reconsideration
on September 16, 2013. (See D.N. 12-4) Jeffries
thereafter filed a written request for a hearing before an
administrative law judge. (Id., PageID # 182) On
January 12, 2015, the ALJ issued an opinion denying
Jeffries' claims. (D.N. 12-2, PageID # 65-73) The ALJ
found, among other things, that Jeffries has the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to perform “light work”
as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b). (Id., PageID # 68-72) The ALJ
also found that considering Jeffries' age, education,
work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that she can
perform. (Id., PageID # 72-73) The appeals council
denied Jeffries' request for review. (Id.,
PageID # 54)
filed this action on August 4, 2016, challenging the
Commissioner's denial of her claims. (D.N. 1) Jeffries
moved for summary judgment. (D.N. 14) Specifically, Jeffries
argues that the ALJ's decision warrants reversal on two
grounds: (1) the ALJ's “[RFC] finding does not
include any limitation for . . . Jeffries'
well-documented medical[ly] determinable bilateral hand
impairment” and (2) “the ALJ did not evaluate
treating source primary care physician Dr. Virginia
Purdom's medical opinion as a treating source opinion and
did not cite good reasons for rejecting it.” (D.N.
14-1, PageID # 484) The Court referred this matter to
Magistrate Judge Colin H. Lindsay, who issued a report and
recommendation on September 29, 2017. (D.N. 13; D.N. 18)
Judge Lindsay recommends that this Court affirm the
Commissioner's decision and that Jeffries' complaint
be dismissed with prejudice. (D.N. 18, PageID # 532)
reviewing a report and recommendation, this Court reviews de
novo “those portions of the report or specified
proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is
made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). The Court may
adopt without review any portion of the report to which an
objection is not made. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S.
140, 150 (1985). On review, the Court “may accept,
reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive
further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate
judge with instructions.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).
Accordingly, the Court will review de novo the portions of
Judge Lindsay's recommendation to which Jeffries objects
to determine if relief is warranted.
detailed in Judge Lindsay's recommendation, “[t]he
Commissioner has promulgated regulations setting forth a
five-step sequential evaluation process for evaluating a
disability claim.” (D.N. 18, PageID # 527 (citing 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(1))) Only steps four and five are
at issue in Jeffries' objections. At step four, the ALJ
considers the claimant's RFC with the physical and mental
demands of her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(f). The claimant has the burden of proof at step
four. Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d
525, 529 (6th Cir. 1997). At step five, the ALJ considers the
claimant's RFC with her age, education, and work
experience to determine whether she can make an adjustment to
other work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). The Commissioner
has the burden of proof at step five. Walters, 127
F.3d at 529.
reviewing an ALJ's decision, the Court asks
“whether it is supported by substantial evidence and
was made pursuant to proper legal standards.”
Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241
(6th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). “Substantial
evidence is defined as more than a scintilla of evidence but
less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (internal quotations
omitted). The Court “may not try the case de
novo, nor resolve conflicts in evidence, nor decide
questions of credibility.” Cohen v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 964 F.2d 524, 528 (6th Cir.
1992) (quoting Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387
(6th Cir. 1984)). Where substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's decision, the Court “must affirm.”
Staymate v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 681 F.
App'x 462, 466 (6th Cir. 2017) (citing Barker v.
Shalala, 40 F.3d 789, 794 (6th Cir. 1994)). Moreover,
“[t]he findings of the [ALJ] are not subject to
reversal merely because there exists in the record
substantial evidence to support a different
conclusion.” Buxton v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 246 F.3d 762, 772-73 (6th Cir. 2001); see also
Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90
(6th Cir. 1999) (“Even if the evidence could also
support another conclusion, the decision of the
Administrative Law Judge must stand if the evidence could
reasonably support the conclusion reached.”).
The ALJ's RFC Finding
first takes issue with the ALJ's RFC finding, and
specifically the ALJ's failure to include any limitation
regarding Jeffries' alleged hand impairment. (D.N. 14-1,
PageID # 493- 95) In his recommendation, Judge Lindsay
rejected this argument, finding that “substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's RFC findings.” (D.N.
18, PageID # 529) He noted that “all of the
experts' medical reports indicated that while [Jeffries]
was experiencing discomfort in her hands, not only was there
. . . no definitive diagnosis for her ailment, but the
specialists' findings did not support the degree of
distress that [Jeffries] claimed.” (Id.) The
expert reports included (i) Dr. Knetsche's neurological
examination of Jeffries, which found that she had normal
motor strength, sensation, and painless range of motion of
her upper extremities; (ii) Dr. Nazar's neurological
examination, which concluded that Jeffries had full motion of
all extremities; and (iii) Dr. Sajid's report, which
found that Jeffries did not have rheumatoid
arthritis. (Id. (citing D.N. 12-2, PageID #
objection, Jeffries alleges that the ALJ and magistrate judge
reached their conclusions “by performing a selective
reading of the medical evidence, focusing only on what they
perceived as normal findings to reject Ms. Jeffries'
claims and [Jeffries' treating physician] Dr.
Purdom's opinion.” (D.N. 19, PageID # 537) This
allegation is essentially a claim that the ALJ and magistrate
“cherry picked” the record evidence. An ALJ need
not “discuss every piece of evidence in the record,
” however. Conner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
658 F. App'x 248, 254 (6th Cir. 2016) (citing Thacker
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 99 F. App'x 661, 665
(6th Cir. 2004)). Furthermore, a claim of “cherry
picking” is “seldom successful because crediting
it would require a court to re-weigh record evidence.”
DeLong v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 748 F.3d 723, 726
(6th Cir. 2014). As discussed above, the “substantial
evidence” standard does not permit this Court to make
evidentiary rulings. Cohen, 964 F.2d at 528.
corollary to her initial objection, Jeffries cites Social
Security Rule 16-3p, which states that an ALJ “will not
disregard an individual's statements about . . . symptoms
solely because the objective medical evidence does not
substantiate the degree of impairment-related symptoms
alleged by the individual.” 2016 WL 1119029 at *5 (Mar.
16, 2016). Although Jeffries does not make her point
explicit, by citing SSR ...