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Peters v. Colvin

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

March 31, 2015

BERNICE K. PETERS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [11, 13]

DAVID R. GRAND, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Bernice K. Peters ("Peters") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), challenging a final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act (the "Act"). Both parties have filed summary judgment motions, which have been referred to this Court for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).

I. RECOMMENDATION

For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") conclusion that Peters is not disabled under the Act is not supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Court RECOMMENDS that the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment [13] be DENIED, Peters' motion [11] be GRANTED IN PART to the extent it seeks remand, and DENIED IN PART to the extent it seeks an award of benefits, and that, pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this case be REMANDED to the ALJ for further proceedings consistent with this Recommendation.

II. REPORT

A. Procedural History

On January 14, 2011, Peters filed for DIB, alleging an onset date of March 21, 2008. [Tr. 93-95, 101].[1] This application was denied. [Tr. 54-57]. Peters filed a timely request for an administrative hearing on June 15, 2011. [Tr. 58-59]. A hearing was held on November 17, 2011, before ALJ Oksana Xenos. [Tr. 23-41]. Peters, who was represented by attorney Mark Anthony Aiello, testified, as did vocational expert Harry Cynowa. [ Id. ]. On December 19, 2011, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Peters was not disabled. [Tr. 12-19]. On January 29, 2014, the Appeals Council denied review. [Tr. 1-3]. Peters filed for judicial review of the final decision on April 4, 2014. [1].

B. Framework for Disability Determinations

Under the Act, DIB is available only for those who have a "disability." See Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). The Act defines "disability" as the:

inability to engage in any 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 12 months.

42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Commissioner's regulations provide that a disability is to be determined through the application of a five-step sequential analysis:

Step One: If the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Two: If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments that "significantly limits... physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, " benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Three: If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity, has a severe impairment that is expected to last for at least twelve months, and the severe impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed in the regulations, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled regardless of age, education, or work experience.
Step Four: If the claimant is able to perform his or her past relevant work, benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Five: Even if the claimant is unable to perform his or her past relevant work, if other work exists in the national economy that the claimant can perform, in view of his or her age, education, and work experience, benefits are denied.

Scheuneman v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 2011 WL 6937331, at *7 (E.D. Mich. Dec. 6, 2011) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920); see also Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001). "The burden of proof is on the claimant throughout the first four steps.... If the analysis reaches the fifth step without a finding that claimant is not disabled, the burden transfers to ...


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