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Brown v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 27, 2015

TOMMY F. BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

OPINION

HUGH W. BRENNEMAN, Jr., Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying his claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB).

Plaintiff was born on May 7, 1966 (AR 187).[1] He alleged a disability onset date of October 17, 2008 (AR 187). Plaintiff completed two years of college (AR 192). He had two previous claims for DIB, which the ALJ addressed as follows:

Prior to the current application, the claimant filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits in June 2012. That application was denied in a determination dated August 2, 2012. No appeal was filed.
Prior to the June 2012 application, the claimant filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits in February 2011. That application was ultimately denied in a decision by an Administrative Law Judge dated September 13, 2011. Although this decision was appealed to the Appeals Council, the claimant's request for review was declined. Therefore, the Administrative Law Judge's decision dated September 13, 2011, is final and binding. Accordingly, this decision address [sic] the period from September 14, 2011, through the date of this decision.

(AR 12).

Plaintiff filed his present claim for DIB on January 13, 2013 (AR 12). He identified his disabling conditions as: mental and emotional impairments; back/neck injury; arthritis; depression; and anxiety (AR 191). The administrative law judge (ALJ) reviewed plaintiff's claim de novo and entered a written decision denying benefits on October 18, 2013 (AR 12-24). This decision, which was later approved by the Appeals Council, has become the final decision of the Commissioner and is now before the Court for review.

I. LEGAL STANDARD

This court's review of the Commissioner's decision is typically focused on determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §405(g); McKnight v. Sullivan, 927 F.2d 241 (6th Cir. 1990). "Substantial evidence is 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." Cutlip v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). A determination of substantiality of the evidence must be based upon the record taken as a whole. Young v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 925 F.2d 146 (6th Cir. 1990).

The scope of this review is limited to an examination of the record only. This Court does not review the evidence de novo, make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Brainard v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989). The fact that the record also contains evidence which would have supported a different conclusion does not undermine the Commissioner's decision so long as there is substantial support for that decision in the record. Willbanks v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 847 F.2d 301, 303 (6th Cir. 1988). Even if the reviewing court would resolve the dispute differently, the Commissioner's decision must stand if it is supported by substantial evidence. Young, 925 F.2d at 147.

A claimant must prove that he 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 which 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 the above standard, the Commissioner has developed a five-step analysis:

The Social Security Act requires the Secretary to follow a "five-step sequential process" for claims of disability. First, plaintiff must demonstrate that she is not currently engaged in "substantial gainful activity" at the time she seeks disability benefits. Second, plaintiff must show that she suffers from a "severe impairment" in order to warrant a finding of disability. A "severe impairment" is one which "significantly limits... physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." Third, if plaintiff is not performing substantial gainful activity, has a severe impairment that is expected to last for at least twelve months, and the impairment meets a listed impairment, plaintiff is presumed to be disabled regardless of age, education or work experience. Fourth, if the plaintiff's impairment does not prevent her from doing her past relevant work, plaintiff is not disabled. For the fifth and final step, even if the plaintiff's impairment does prevent her from doing her past relevant work, if other work exists in the national economy that plaintiff can perform, plaintiff is not disabled.

Heston v. Commissioner of Social Security, 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted).

The 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 relevant work through step four. Jones v. Commissioner of Social Security, 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). However, at step five of the inquiry, "the burden shifts to the Commissioner to identify a significant number of jobs in the economy that accommodate the claimant's residual functional capacity (determined at step four) and vocational profile." Id. If it is determined that a claimant is or is not disabled at any point in the evaluation process, further review is not necessary. Mullis v. Bowen, 861 F.2d 991, 993 (6th Cir. 1988).

II. ALJ'S DECISION

Plaintiff's claim failed at the fifth step of the evaluation. At the first step, the ALJ found that while plaintiff's alleged disability commenced on September 14, 2011, plaintiff had engaged in substantial gainful activity from June 1, 2012 through October 27, 2012 (AR 12, 15). The ALJ explained that "[a]t the hearing, the claimant stated he had no accommodations related to this job, and he only lost this job because he accidently punctured a drum of chemicals while driving the forklift" (AR 15). However, the ALJ also found that "there has been a continuous 12-month period(s) during which the claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity" and that "[t]he remaining findings address the period(s) the claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity" (AR 15). Based on the ALJ's decision, it appears that the relevant time frames are ...


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