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Weaver v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, Western District of Michigan, Southern Division

March 10, 2015

GREGORY WEAVER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

OPINION

ELLEN S. CARMODY, United States Magistrate Judge

This is an action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act. On April 29, 2014, the parties agreed to proceed in this Court for all further proceedings, including an order of final judgment. (Dkt. #9). Section 405(g) limits the Court to a review of the administrative record and provides that if the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence it shall be conclusive. The Commissioner has found that Plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. For the reasons stated below, the Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and this matter remanded for further factual findings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court's jurisdiction is confined to a review of the Commissioner's decision and of the record made in the administrative hearing process. See Willbanks v. Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 847 F.2d 301, 303 (6th Cir. 1988). The scope of judicial review in a social security case is limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards in making her decision and whether there exists in the record substantial evidence supporting that decision. See Brainard v. Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989).

The Court may not conduct a de novo review of the case, resolve evidentiary conflicts, or decide questions of credibility. See Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). It is the Commissioner who is charged with finding the facts relevant to an application for disability benefits, and her findings are conclusive provided they are supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. See Cohen v. Sec'y of Dep't of Health and Human Services, 964 F.2d 524, 528 (6th Cir. 1992) (citations omitted). It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Bogle v. Sullivan, 998 F.2d 342, 347 (6th Cir. 1993). In determining the substantiality of the evidence, the Court must consider the evidence on the record as a whole and take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight. See Richardson v. Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 735 F.2d 962, 963 (6th Cir. 1984).

As has been widely recognized, the substantial evidence standard presupposes the existence of a zone within which the decision maker can properly rule either way, without judicial interference. See Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (citation omitted). This standard affords to the administrative decision maker considerable latitude, and indicates that a decision supported by substantial evidence will not be reversed simply because the evidence would have supported a contrary decision. See Bogle, 998 F.2d at 347; Mullen, 800 F.2d at 545.

PROCEDURAL POSTURE

Plaintiff was 46 years of age on his alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 46, 126, 195). He successfully completed high school and worked previously as a bricklayer, supervisor, and construction worker. (Tr. 24). Plaintiff applied for benefits on December 1, 2010, alleging that he had been disabled since April 15, 2010, [1] due to obesity, shortness of breath, and knee/back impairments. (Tr. 46, 126-27, 152, 195). Plaintiff's application was denied, after which time he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 73-124). On July 23, 2012, Plaintiff appeared before ALJ James Prothro with testimony being presented by Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (Tr. 30-72). In a written decision dated September 21, 2012, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 14-25). The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's determination, rendering it the Commissioner's final decision in the matter. (Tr. 1-6). Plaintiff subsequently initiated this appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision.

RELEVANT MEDICAL HISTORY

On November 5, 2010, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. R. Scott Lazzara. (Tr. 214-20). Plaintiff reported that he was disabled due to "knees, back, stroke, shortness of breath, obesity." (Tr. 216). Plaintiff reported that he injured his left knee several years previously after which he experienced "gradual deterioration" thereof. (Tr. 216). Plaintiff reported that he "is able to do chores around the house and drive...does some light cooking but does not grocery shop." (Tr. 216). Plaintiff reported that "he can walk about 80 yards, sit about 30 minutes, stand about 10 minutes, and can still lift upwards of 100 pounds." (Tr. 216). A physical examination revealed the following:

APPEARANCE/MENTAL STATUS: The patient is cooperative in answering questions and following commands. The patient's immediate, recent and remote memory is intact with normal concentration. The patient's insight and judgment are both appropriate. The patient provides a good effort during the examination.
VITAL SIGNS: Weight = 570 lbs. Height = 68" ...

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