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Oldenkamp v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

January 12, 2015


For Mary Oldenkamp, plaintiff: Ryan Kenneth Seale, Thomas M. Stellard, PLLC, Grand Rapids, MI; Thomas M. Stellard, Grand Rapids, MI.

For Commissioner of Social Security, defendant: Joanne Pengelly, Social Security Administration (NY), New York, NY; Ryan D. Cobb, U.S. Attorney (Grand Rapids), Grand Rapids, MI.

PHILLIP J. GREEN, United States Magistrate Judge. Hon. Gordon J. Quist.


PHILLIP J. GREEN, United States Magistrate Judge

This is a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff's claims for disability insurance benefits (DIB). On September 24, 2010, plaintiff filed her application for benefits alleging an April 1, 2009, onset of disability. (Page ID 145-51). Her claims were denied on initial review. (Page ID 97-100). On June 25, 2012, she received a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Page ID 49-83). On July 19, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled. (Page ID 35-43). On November 7, 2013, the Appeals Council denied review (Page ID 25-27), and the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision.

Plaintiff filed a timely complaint seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying her claims for DIB. She asks the court to overturn the Commissioner's decision on the following grounds: (1) the ALJ's decision failed to evaluate plaintiff's impairments under medical listings 1.04 (disorders of the spine) and 11.03 (nonconvulsive epilepsy) at Step Three of the sequential analysis; and (2) the ALJ's decision failed to give proper weight to her treating physicians' opinions (Plf. Brief at 13, 16, Page ID 713, 716, Dkt. 13).

I conducted oral arguments on January 7, 2015. Having reviewed the record, and having considered the parties' written and oral submissions, I recommend that the Commissioner's decision be vacated and the matter remanded to the Commissioner under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further administrative proceedings.

Legal Standard

When reviewing the grant or denial of social security benefits, this court is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner correctly applied the law. See Elam ex rel. Golay v. Commissioner, 348 F.3d 124, 125 (6th Cir. 2003); Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th Cir. 2001). Substantial evidence is defined as " 'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Heston v. Commissioner, 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971)); see Rogers v. Commissioner, 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007).

The scope of the court's review is limited. Buxton, 246 F.3d at 772. The court does not review the evidence de novo, resolve conflicts in evidence, or make credibility determinations. See Ulman v. Commissioner, 693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir. 2012); Walters v. Commissioner, 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). " The findings of the [Commissioner] as to any fact if supported by substantial evidence shall be conclusive . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see McClanahan v. Commissioner, 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006). " The findings of the Commissioner are not subject to reversal merely because there exists in the record substantial evidence to support a different conclusion. . . . This is so because there is a 'zone of choice' within which the Commissioner can act without fear of court interference." Buxton, 246 F.3d at 772-73. " If supported by substantial evidence, the [Commissioner's] determination must stand regardless of whether the reviewing court would resolve the issues of fact in dispute differently." Bogle v. Sullivan, 998 F.2d 342, 347 (6th Cir. 1993); see Gayheart v. Commissioner, 710 F.3d 365, 374 (6th Cir. 2013) (" A reviewing court will affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on substantial evidence, even if substantial evidence would have supported the opposite conclusion."). " [T]he Commissioner's decision cannot be overturned if substantial evidence, or even a preponderance of the evidence supports the claimant's position, so long as substantial evidence also supports the conclusion reached by the ALJ." Jones v. Commissioner, 336 F.3d 469, 477 (6th Cir. 2003); see Kyle v. Commissioner, 609 F.3d 847, 854 (6th Cir. 2010).

A claimant must prove that she suffers from a disability in order to be entitled to benefits. A disability is established by showing that the claimant cannot engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that 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 twelve months. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505; Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990). In applying this standard, the Commissioner has developed a five-step sequential analysis. Warner v. Commissioner, 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004). Under the sequential analysis,

[t]he claimant must first show that she is not engaged in substantial gainful activity. Next, the claimant must demonstrate that she has a " severe impairment." A finding of " disabled" will be made at the third step if the claimant can then demonstrate that her impairment meets the durational requirement and " meets or equals a listed impairment." If the impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, the fourth step requires the claimant to prove that she is incapable of performing work that she has done in the past. Finally, if the claimant's impairment is so severe as to preclude the performance of past work, then other factors, including age, education, past work experience, and residual functional capacity, must be considered to determine if other work can be performed. The burden shifts to the Commissioner at this fifth step to establish the claimant's ability to do other work.

White v. Commissioner, 572 F.3d 272, 282 (6th Cir. 2009).

A claimant bears the burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations caused by her impairments and the fact that she is precluded from performing her past work through step four. Jones v. Commissioner, 336 F.3d at 474. At step five of the inquiry, however, " the burden shifts to the Commissioner to identify a significant number of jobs in the economy that accommodate the ...

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