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Lambert v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

January 15, 2015

CHISANDRA LAMBERT, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant

For Chisandra Lambert, Plaintiff: Richard J. Doud, Davidson Breen & Doud, P.C., Saginaw, MI.

For Commissioner of ocial Security, Defendant: Alison Schwartz, Social Security Administration, Office of Regional Counsel, Chicago, IL; Ameenah Lewis, Social Security Administration, Chicago, IL; Lynn Marie Dodge, U.S. Attorney's Office, Detroit, MI.

Michael Hluchaniuk, United States Magistrate Judge. Avern Cohn, United States District Judge.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Dkt. 10, 14)

Michael Hluchaniuk, United States Magistrate Judge

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

A. Proceedings in this Court

On October 21, 2013, plaintiff Chisandra Lambert filed the instant suit seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's unfavorable decision disallowing benefits. (Dkt. 1). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 72.1(b)(3), District Judge Avern Cohn referred this matter to the undersigned for the purpose of reviewing the Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff's claim for disability and disability insurance benefits. (Dkt. 2). This matter is before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. (Dkt. 10, 14).

B. Administrative Proceedings

Plaintiff filed the instant claim for disability and disability insurance benefits on January 25, 2011, alleging disability beginning August 23, 2010. (Dkt. 7-5, Pg ID 160-61). Plaintiff's claim was initially disapproved by the Commissioner on May 19, 2011. (Dkt. 7-3, Pg ID 105). Plaintiff requested a hearing and on March 6, 2012, plaintiff appeared with his attorney before Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ") Kevin W. Fallis, who considered the case de novo. (Dkt. 7-2, Pg ID 63-95). In a decision dated May 23, 2012, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Dkt. 7-2, Pg ID 46-58). Plaintiff requested a review of this decision, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when, after the review of additional exhibits, [1] the Appeals Council, on August 20, 2013, denied plaintiff's request for review. (Dkt. 7-2, Pg ID 30-35); Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 543-44 (6th Cir. 2004).

For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be DENIED, that defendant's motion for summary judgment be GRANTED, and that the findings of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. ALJ Findings

Plaintiff was born in 1961 and was 50 years old at the time of the administrative hearing, and 49 years of age on the alleged disability onset date. (Dkt. 7-2, Pg ID 51). Plaintiff had past relevant work as a front counter clerk and data entry clerk. (Id.). The ALJ applied the five-step disability analysis to plaintiff's claim and found at step one that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (Dkt. 7-2, Pg ID 51-52).[2] At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff's status post total knee arthroplasty of the left knee, chronic low back pain, and right torn rotator cuff were " severe" within the meaning of the second sequential step, but that plaintiff's claimed degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spines and bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome are not medically determinable impairments. (Dkt. 7-2, Pg ID 52). At step three, the ALJ found no evidence that plaintiff's impairments or combination of impairments met or equaled one of the listings in the regulations. (Id.). The ALJ determined that plaintiff had the following residual functional capacity (" RFC"):

to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except the claimant is able to stand/walk for about 2 hours and sit for up to 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, with normal breaks. The claimant is able to lift up to 20 pounds occasionally and lift/carry up to 10 pounds frequently. The claimant requires jobs that would allow the individual to sit or stand alternatively, provided the individual will not be off-task more than 10% of the work period. The claimant can never operate foot controls. The claimant can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. The claimant can occasionally perform overhead reaching with the right upper extremity. The claimant can frequently perform handling and fingering bilaterally. The claimant is limited to jobs that can be performed while using a hand-held assistive device for uneven terrain or prolonged ambulation and the contralateral upper extremity can be used to lift and carry up to the exertional limits. The claimant must avoid all exposure to excessive vibration, use of moving machinery, and exposure to unprotected heights. The claimant requires work that is limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks performed in a work environment free of fast-paced production requirements involving only simple work-related decisions and routine workplace changes due to the residual effects of pain and side-effects of medications.

(Dkt. 7-2, Pg ID 52-56).

At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff was unable to perform any of her past relevant work because the demands of that past work exceed the residual functional capacity. (Dkt. 7-2, Pg ID 57). At step five, the ALJ denied plaintiff benefits because plaintiff could perform a significant number of jobs available in the national economy. (Dkt. 7-2, Pg ID 57-58). Based on the foregoing, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had not been under a disability from August 23, 2010 through the date of the decision. (Dkt. 7-2, Pg ID 58).

B. Plaintiff's Claims of Error

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred as a matter of law in failing to properly evaluate the medical records and opinion evidence, and thereby formed an inaccurate hypothetical that did not accurately portray plaintiff's impairments. Plaintiff contends that although the record evidence demonstrates that plaintiff has a history of a status post total knee arthroplasty of the left knee, chronic low back pain, and right torn rotator cuff, the ALJ nevertheless found plaintiff capable of making a successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 28). Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ's finding that the plaintiff would be able to perform certain jobs such as inspector, assembler, machine operator, information clerk, and surveillance system monitor is erroneous.

Plaintiff asserts that she testified at the hearing that she was not able to stand for longer than 10 minutes due to the low back pain and knee pain, and that she also is limited in her ability to sit for longer than 10-15 minutes due to back pain. (Tr. 48). Plaintiff also testified that she is limited in her ability to walk longer than 10 minutes. (Tr. 48). Plaintiff claimed that the pain associated with her knee and low back is present and severe with even the most minute of tasks, and that she is required to take medications, which she asserts make her tired throughout the day. (Tr. ...


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