United States District Court, Western District of Michigan, Southern Division
GORDON J. QUIST, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
This is an action pursuant to Section 405(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 under Title II of the Social Security Act. 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. For the reasons articulated herein, 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.
Plaintiff was 39 years of age on the date her insured status expired. (Tr. 23, 157). She successfully completed high school and previously worked as an order filler and shipping/receiving clerk. (Tr. 28). Plaintiff applied for benefits on September 9, 2010, alleging that she had been disabled since January 1, 2004, due to degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, bursitis, and irritable bowel syndrome. (Tr. 157-63, 182). Plaintiff later amended her disability onset date to September 1, 2007. (Tr. 21).
Plaintiff’s application was denied, after which time she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 94-156). On April 20, 2012, Plaintiff appeared before ALJ Michael Condon, with testimony being offered by Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (Tr. 37-93). In a written decision dated June 28, 2012, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 21-30). 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 action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the ALJ’s decision.
Plaintiff’s insured status expired on December 31, 2007. (Tr. 23). Accordingly, to be eligible for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, Plaintiff must establish that she became disabled prior to the expiration of her insured status. See 42 U.S.C. § 423; Moon v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 1175, 1182 (6th Cir. 1990).
ANALYSIS OF THE ALJ’S DECISION
The social security regulations articulate a five-step sequential process for evaluating disability. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a-f), 416.920(a-f). If the Commissioner can make a dispositive finding at any point in the review, no further finding is required. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). The regulations also provide that if a claimant suffers from a nonexertional impairment as well as an exertional impairment, both are considered in determining her residual functional capacity. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545, 416.945.
The burden of establishing the right to benefits rests squarely on Plaintiff’s shoulders, and she can satisfy her burden by demonstrating that her impairments are so severe that she is unable to perform her previous work, and cannot, considering her age, education, and work experience, perform any other substantial gainful employment existing in significant numbers in the national economy. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); Cohen, 964 F.2d at 528. While the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner at step five of the sequential evaluation process, Plaintiff bears the burden of proof through step four of the procedure, the point at which her residual functioning capacity (RFC) is determined. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987); Walters v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997) (ALJ determines RFC at step four, at which point claimant bears the burden of proof).
The ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffers from: (1) fibromyalgia; (2) degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine; (3) left shoulder impingement and acromioclavicular arthritis (status-post arthroscopic surgery on September 7, 2007); (4) bursitis of both hips; (5) irritable bowel syndrome; (6) depression; (7) anxiety; and (8) a personality disorder, severe impairments that whether considered alone or in combination with other impairments, failed to satisfy the requirements of ...