United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
DANIEL L. YOST, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
PHILLIP J. GREEN, Magistrate Judge.
This is a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security terminating plaintiff's disability insurance (DIB) benefits. In 2004, the Social Security Administration determined that plaintiff was disabled as of September 27, 2002. (Page ID 125-30). On May 8, 2009, it determined that plaintiff was no longer disabled as of May 1, 2009. (Page ID 138-41). Plaintiff requested reconsideration of the administrative decision. On March 30, 2011, a disability hearing officer upheld the decision terminating plaintiff's benefits. (Page ID 145-58). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). On April 11, 2012, plaintiff received a hearing before an ALJ, at which he was represented by counsel. (Page ID 65-123). On June 13, 2012, the ALJ issued her decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled. (Page ID 37-48). On November 8, 2012, the Appeals Council denied review (Page ID 30-32), and the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision.
Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the parties voluntarily consented to have a United States magistrate judge conduct all further proceedings in this case, including entry of final judgment. (docket # 10). Plaintiff asks the Court to overturn the Commissioner's decision based on arguments that the ALJ "erroneously failed to give appropriate weight to the opinions of  treating sources and misapplied the law." (Plf. Brief at 3, docket # 11, Page ID 703). The court finds that plaintiff's arguments do not provide any basis for disturbing the Commissioner's decision. A judgment will be entered affirming the Commissioner's decision.
Standard of Review
When reviewing the grant or denial of social security benefits, this court is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner correctly applied the law. See Elam ex rel. Golay v. Commissioner, 348 F.3d 124, 125 (6th Cir. 2003); Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th Cir. 2001). Substantial evidence is defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Heston v. Commissioner, 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)); see Rogers v. Commissioner, 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007). The scope of the court's review is limited. Buxton, 246 F.3d at 772. The court does not review the evidence de novo, resolve conflicts in evidence, or make credibility determinations. See Ulman v. Commissioner, 693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir. 2012); Walters v. Commissioner, 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). "The findings of the [Commissioner] as to any fact if supported by substantial evidence shall be conclusive...." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see McClanahan v. Commissioner, 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006). "The findings of the Commissioner are not subject to reversal merely because there exists in the record substantial evidence to support a different conclusion.... This is so because there is a zone of choice' within which the Commissioner can act without fear of court interference." Buxton, 246 F.3d at 772-73. "If supported by substantial evidence, the [Commissioner's] determination must stand regardless of whether the reviewing court would resolve the issues of fact in dispute differently." Bogle v. Sullivan, 998 F.2d 342, 347 (6th Cir. 1993); see Gayheart v. Commissioner, 710 F.3d 365, 374 (6th Cir. 2013) ("A reviewing court will affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on substantial evidence, even if substantial evidence would have supported the opposite conclusion."). "[T]he Commissioner's decision cannot be overturned if substantial evidence, or even a preponderance of the evidence supports the claimant's position, so long as substantial evidence also supports the conclusion reached by the ALJ." Jones v. Commissioner, 336 F.3d 469, 477 (6th Cir. 2003); see Kyle v. Commissioner, 609 F.3d 847, 854 (6th Cir. 2010).
ALJs employ an eight-step sequential analysis in disability review cases. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f). There is no presumption of continuing disability. See Kennedy v. Astrue, 247 F.Appx. 761, 764 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Cutlip v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286-87 (6th Cir. 1994)). In step one, the ALJ examines whether the individual is engaging in substantial gainful activity. If the answer is yes, the individual's disability has ended. Step two is an examination of whether the individual had an impairment or combination of impairments which meets or equals the severity of a listed impairment. If answered in the affirmative, disability continues. Step three is an inquiry as to whether there had been medical improvement. Step four is an examination whether the medical improvement is related to the individual's ability to perform work. Step five is an analysis conducted if there has been no medical improvement or the medical improvement is not related to the individual's ability to perform work. Step six is a determination whether the individual's current impairments are severe. If there is no severe impairment, the individual is not disabled. Step seven is an assessment of the claimant's "ability to do substantial gainful activity" in accordance with 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560. That is, the ALJ determines the individual's residual functional capacity based on all his current impairments and considers whether he can perform past relevant work. If he can perform such work, he is not disabled. Step eight is an administrative finding whether the individual can perform other work in light of his age, education, work experience and RFC. If he is capable of performing other work, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f); see Hagans v. Commissioner, 694 F.3d 287, 307-08 (3d Cir. 2012); Delph v. Astrue, 538 F.3d 940, 945-46 (8th Cir. 2008).
The ALJ found that the administrative decision dated February 12, 2004, was the most recent favorable decision finding that plaintiff was disabled. It was "the comparison point decision' or CPD." (Op. at 3, Page ID 39). At the time of the CPD, plaintiff had severe impairments. ( Id. ). Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity on or after May 1, 2009, the date his disability ended. ( Id. ). The ALJ found that the medical evidence established that, as of May 1, 2009, plaintiff had the following medically determinable severe impairments:
[T]ype I diabetes mellitus, with retinopathy and no vision and a dense cataract in the right eye, and renal insufficiency secondary to neuropathy, status-post pancreas and kidney transplant, cardiomyopathy with a history of coronary artery bypass surgery, and orthostatic hypotension intermittently symptomatic, but no longer with chronic heart failure; anemia; mild thoracic dextroscoliosis, status post fracture of clavicle and right scapula, intercostal neuritis; and depression and anxiety.
( Id. ). The ALJ found that since May 1, 2009, plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments which met or equaled the requirements of the listing of impairments. ( Id. ). She found that "[m]edical improvement [had] occurred as of May 1, 2009." ( Id. at 4, Page ID 40). The medical improvement was related to plaintiff's ability to work because it resulted in an increase in his residual functional capacity. ( Id. ). Plaintiff continued to have severe impairments on and after May 1, 2009. ( Id. at 5, Page ID 41).
The ALJ found that on and after May 1, 2009, plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) for a limited range of light work:
As of May 1, 2009, the impairments at the time of the CPD, as well as the additional impairments, had decreased in medical severity to the point where the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work consisting of lifting and or carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; standing and/or walking up to two hours, and sitting up to six hours, each per eight-hour workday with normal breaks; no climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds, and less than frequent climbing of ramps or stairs, stooping, balancing, crouching, crawling or kneeling; no overhead reaching bilaterally; no right side to left side assembly line work or commercial driving, secondary to limited depth perception and field of vision; with the ability to work with large and small objects and to avoid ordinary hazards in the workplace; and with the ability to understand, remember and perform simple tasks, make simple work related decisions and to respond appropriately to co-workers and supervisors, with less than frequent contact with the public; and with the ability to adapt to less
than frequent changes in work expectations and work environment. ( Id. ). The ALJ found that plaintiff's testimony regarding his subjective limitations was not fully credible. ( Id. at 5-11, Page ID 41-47). She found that on and after May 1, 2009, plaintiff was could not perform his past relevant work. ( Id. at 11, Page ID 47). The ALJ then turned to the testimony of a vocational expert (VE). In response to a hypothetical question regarding a person of plaintiff's age, and with his RFC, education, and work experience, the VE testified that there were approximately 8, 000 jobs in Michigan that the hypothetical person would be capable of performing. (Page ID 117-18). The ALJ found that this constituted a significant ...