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Zimmerman v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

October 5, 2016

AMY ZIMMERMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION

          ELLEN S. CARMODY United States Magistrate Judge

         This is an action pursuant to Section 205(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 (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act. On March 8, 2016, the parties agreed to proceed in this Court for all further proceedings, including an order of final judgment. (ECF No. 7).

         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. The Commissioner has found that Plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. For the reasons stated below, the Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         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.

         PROCEDURALPOSTURE

         Plaintiff was 54 years of age on her alleged disability onset date. (PageID.184). She earned a Bachelor's Degree in math and chemistry and previously worked as a research scientist. (PageID.56, 238). Plaintiff applied for benefits on June 12, 2013, alleging that she had been disabled since October 19, 2011, due to post-concussion syndrome and migraines. (PageID.184-90, 237). Plaintiff's application was denied, after which time she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (PageID.104-78). On March 14, 2014, Plaintiff appeared before ALJ James Prothro with testimony being offered by Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (PageID.51-98). In a written decision dated June 6, 2014, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.33-46). The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's determination, rendering it the Commissioner's final decision in the matter. (PageID.18-20). Plaintiff subsequently initiated this pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision.

         RELEVANT MEDICAL HISTORY

         In 1981, Plaintiff underwent AVM resection surgery.[1] (PageID.295). There is nothing in the record suggesting that Plaintiff experienced any further symptoms or detriment from this condition following this surgery.

         On October 18, 2011, Plaintiff “fell approximately 7 steps” and “hit the back of her head.” (PageID.295). Plaintiff did not lose consciousness following this event, but nevertheless reported to a hospital. (PageID.295). The results of a CT scan were unremarkable and Plaintiff was found to be “neurologically stable.” (PageID.295). On November 3, 2011, Plaintiff participated in a CT scan of her head the results of which revealed “stable appearance of the head without any evidence of acute intracranial processes.” (PageID.409).

         On February 27, 2012, Plaintiff participated in a neuropsychological evaluation at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. (PageID.445-50). The examination revealed that Plaintiff was only “marginally limited” and was “doing well with basic tasks.” (PageID.446). The examiner reported that Plaintiff's symptoms “improved with physical therapy, though she is still experiencing some mild symptoms.” (PageID.446). The examiner reported that she “did not find any evidence of pervasive cognitive impairment.” (PageID.447). The examiner concluded that Plaintiff could return to work. (PageID.449).

         Treatment notes dated August 30, 2012, indicate that Plaintiff's cerebellar function was “intact.” (PageID.407). On September 7, 2012, Plaintiff participated in an EEG examination the results of which were “within normal limits” with “no epileptogenic or paroxysmal activities.” (PageID.402).

         On April 27, 2013, Plaintiff was examined by James Lozer, Ed.D. (PageID.438-43). With respect to Plaintiff's activity level, the doctor observed:

She is independent in her self care. A typical day has her rising about 5 A.M. and retiring about 8 P.M. Once up for the day, “I get up, take that damn thyroid pill, read, do laundry, bake bread, pay bills, make breakfast for my daughter, get her out the door, sew or play in my garden, lay down about an hour, pick up the house, make lunch, read, look at daughter's homework, eat dinner with husband, fall asleep about 8 PM.”

(PageID.440).

         Dr. Lozer concluded:

In my opinion, the claimant would be able to engage in full time competitive work in a less stressful occupation with fewer demands from a psychological point of view. It is important for her to continue her counseling to help her cope with the loss of her job. Alternative treatments such as ...

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