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Vandenboss v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

May 26, 2015



MONA K. MAJZOUB, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Dawn Vandenboss seeks judicial review of Defendant the Commissioner of Society Security's determination that she is not entitled to Social Security benefits for her physical impairments under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Docket no. 1.) Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 19) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 21). Plaintiff filed a Response to Defendant's Motion. (Docket no. 22.) The motions have been referred to the undersigned for a report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). (Docket no. 3.) The Court has reviewed the pleadings, dispenses with a hearing pursuant to E.D. Mich. L.R. 7.1(f)(2), and issues this Report and Recommendation.

I. Recommendation

The undersigned recommends that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [19] be GRANTED and that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [21] be DENIED. This matter should be remanded for further consideration of the opinion of Dr. William Crafton, Plaintiff's treating physician, as discussed herein.

II. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income with protective filing dates of November 30, 2011, alleging that she had been disabled since November 25, 2009, due to pain in her hips and knees. (TR 118-25; 139-41.) Plaintiff later amended her alleged onset date to October 1, 2011. (TR 135.) The Social Security Administration denied benefits. ( See TR 13.) Plaintiff then requested a de novo hearing, which was held on November 2, 2012, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Melody Paige, who subsequently found that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits because she was capable of performing a significant number of jobs in the national economy. (TR 19-29.) The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision, and Plaintiff commenced this action for judicial review. The parties then filed their instant Motions.

III. Plaintiff's Testimony, Medical Evidence, and Vocational Expert Testimony

A. Plaintiff's Testimony and Medical Record

Defendant (docket no. 21 at 5-10), and the ALJ (TR 23-28) each set out a detailed factual recitation with regard to Plaintiff's medical record and hearing testimony. Plaintiff addresses the relevant factual details in her argument. (Docket no. 19 at 7-24.) Aside from the medial evidence discussed herein, there are no material inconsistencies between these accounts; therefore, the undersigned will incorporate these factual recitations by reference. Nevertheless, the undersigned has conducted an independent review of Plaintiff's medical record and the hearing transcript and will include comments and citations as necessary throughout this Report and Recommendation.

B. The Vocational Expert's Testimony

At the administrative hearing, the ALJ asked the VE to consider a hypothetical individual with Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience. The ALJ then asked the VE to assume that this individual had the ability to perform a full range of sedentary work. The VE testified that such an individual could perform a wide range of unskilled jobs, specifically including work in sorting and assembly. (TR 51-52.) The ALJ then asked the VE to assume that the individual would, "during the course of the shift have their right leg elevated to coffee table level." (TR 52.) The VE testified that such an individual could perform all of the same jobs. (TR 52.) The ALJ then asked the VE to assume that the individual could lift and/or carry only five pounds occasionally, could never stand or walk, could only sit for one hour at a time for a total of one hour in an eight-hour shift, needed to elevate her leg for four hours out of an eight hour shift, and would need to rest for 20 to 30 minutes out of every hour. (TR 52-53.) The VE testified that there would be no jobs that such an individual could perform. (TR 53.) Plaintiff's attorney did not question the VE.

IV. Administrative Law Judge's Determination

The ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2014; that she had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 25, 2009, her original alleged onset date; and that she suffered from severe "left sciatica, and osteoarthrosis and degenerative joint disease in the bilateral knees and left hip." (TR 21-23.) The ALJ then found that her impairments did not meet or equal those listed in the Listing of Impairments. (TR 3.) The ALJ found, however, that Plaintiff's allegations regarding the extent of her symptoms were not wholly credible and that Plaintiff could perform sedentary work, but "during the course of the workday, she will need to elevate her right leg to coffee table level." (TR 23-28.) The ALJ then determined, in reliance on the VE's testimony, that Plaintiff was capable of performing a significant number of jobs in the national economy. (TR 28-29.) Therefore, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act from November 25, 2009, through the date of her decision. (TR 29.)

V. Law and Analysis

A. Standard of Review

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decisions. Judicial review of the Commissioner's decisions is limited to determining whether his findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether he employed the proper legal standards. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Walters v. Comm'r, 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Walters, 127 F.3d at 528. It is not the function of this Court to try cases de novo, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or decide questions of credibility . See Brainard v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989); Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984).

In determining the existence of substantial evidence, the court must examine the administrative record as a whole. See Kirk v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 536 (6th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 957 (1983). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it must be affirmed, even if the reviewing court would decide the matter differently, Kinsella v. Schweiker, 708 F.2d 1058, 1059 (6th Cir. 1983), and even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion. See Her v. Comm'r, 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999); Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (en banc) (noting that the substantial evidence standard "presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which the decisionmakers can go either way, without interference by the courts").

B. Framework for Social Security Determinations

Plaintiff's Social Security disability determination was made in accordance with a five-step sequential analysis. In the first four steps, Plaintiff was required to show that:

(1) Plaintiff was not presently engaged in substantial gainful employment; and
(2) Plaintiff suffered from a severe impairment; and
(3) the impairment met or was medically equal to a "listed impairment;" or
(4) Plaintiff did not have the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform relevant past work.

See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(f). If Plaintiff's impairments prevented Plaintiff from doing past work, the Commissioner, at step five, would consider Plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and past work experience to determine if Plaintiff could perform other work. If not, Plaintiff would be deemed disabled. See id. at § 404.1520(g). The Commissioner has the burden of proof only on "the fifth step, proving that there is work available in the economy that the claimant can perform." Her, 203 F.3d at 391. To meet this burden, the Commissioner must make a finding "supported by substantial evidence that [the claimant] has the vocational qualifications to perform specific jobs." Varley v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 820 F.2d 777, 779 (6th Cir. 1987). This "substantial evidence" may be in the form of ...

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