United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
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 her claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB).
Plaintiff was born on March 23, 1955 (AR 169). She alleged a disability onset date of September 1, 2010 (AR 169). Plaintiff completed one year of college and has additional job training as a medical assistant (AR 174). She had previous employment as a travel agent, sales clerk, school bus driver and president of a sausage company (AR 175). Plaintiff identified her disabling conditions as: fibromyalgia, memory loss, scoliosis, Renault's [Raynaud's] syndrome, depression, arthritis, insomnia, stiff muscles, trouble swallowing, chronic pain, headaches, ringing in the ears, weakness in hands, arms, legs and feet, and tremors (AR 173). The administrative law judge (ALJ) reviewed plaintiff's claim de novo and entered a written decision denying benefits on December 27, 2012 (AR 24-33). 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 fourth step of the evaluation. At the first step, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of September 1, 2010 through March 31, 2011, when plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act (AR 26). At the second step, the ALJ found that through the last date insured, plaintiff had the following severe impairments: status post hemi-arthroplasty/metatarsophalengeal; joint of great toe [sic] degenerative changes of the toe; dextroscoliosis of the thoracic spine; hypertension; fibromyalgia; history of Raynaud's, right shoulder mild tendinosis of supraspinatus; tendon and mild osteoarthritis of the arthroclavacular joint; and bilateral venous insufficiency (AR 26). At the third step, the ALJ found that through the date last insured, plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the requirements of the Listing of Impairments in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 (AR 27-28). Specifically, plaintiff did not meet the requirements of Listing 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint), 1.04 (disorders of the spine) and 4.11 (chronic venous insufficiency) (AR 27-28).
The ALJ decided at the fourth step:
[T]hat, through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except that the claimant is limited to less than frequent kneeling, crawling, balancing, stooping, crouching, and climbing of ramps or stairs. She cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. In addition, the claimant should avoid all exposure to extreme temperatures, and should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat, and to humidity, vibration, and hazards such as unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery.
(AR 28). The ALJ also found that plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work as a food sales clerk, travel agent, school bus driver, and cashier, work which was not precluded by her residual functional capacity (RFC) (AR 32). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from ...