United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
MISTY M. TENNANT, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant,
T. NEFF United States District Judge
a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) seeking judicial review of a final decision by the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(Commissioner). Plaintiff Misty Tennant seeks review of the
Commissioner's decision denying her claim for disability
insurance benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income
(SSI) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act.
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 & Human
Servs., 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).
evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance. See Cohen v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 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 & Human Servs., 735 F.2d 962,
963 (6th Cir. 1984). 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.
was thirty-six years of age on the date of the Administrative
Law Judge's (ALJ) decision. (PageID.42, 88, 97.) She
obtained a GED, and was previously employed as a home health
aide. (PageID.66, 77.) Plaintiff applied for benefits on
October 7, 2011, alleging that she had been disabled since
June 30, 2008, due to spondylolysis, degenerative disc
disease, fibromyalgia, and migraines. (PageID.88, 97,
201-214.) Plaintiff's applications were denied on initial
review, and again upon reconsideration, after which time she
requested a hearing before an ALJ. (PageID.135-142, 150-151.)
On May 2, 2014, Plaintiff appeared by phone before ALJ
Gregory Wilson for an administrative hearing with testimony
being offered by Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE).
(PageID.61-80.) In a written decision dated August 28, 2014,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(PageID.42-59.) On November 10, 2015, the Appeals Council
declined to review the ALJ's decision, making it the
Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.35-39.) Plaintiff subsequently initiated this action
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
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 the claimant's residual
functional capacity (RFC). See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1545, 416.945.
has the burden of proving the existence and severity of
limitations caused by her impairments and that she is
precluded from performing past relevant work through step
four. Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d
469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). At step five, it is the
Commissioner's burden “to identify a significant
number of jobs in the economy that accommodate the
claimant's residual functional capacity (determined at
step four) and vocational profile.” Id.
Wilson determined that Plaintiff's claim failed at the
fourth step of the evaluation. At step one, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since her alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.47.) At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had
the following severe impairments: (1) migraine headaches; (2)
back impairment affecting the cervical and lumbar spine; and
(3) obesity. (PageID.47.) At the third step, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or equaled the requirements of the
Listing of Impairments. (PageID.48.) At the fourth step, the
ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC based on all the
to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and
416.967(c). Function by function, the claimant is able to
lift and carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds
frequently. The claimant is able to sit, stand and walk up to
six hours each in an eight-hour workday. The claimant can
occasionally kneel, crouch, crawl, and stoop as well as reach
overhead. The claimant can frequently balance, but is
restricted from climbing ladders, ropes and scaffolds. The
claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards.
(PageID.48.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ
determined found that Plaintiff could perform her past
relevant work as a home health aide, because such work did
not require the performance of work-related activities
precluded by her residual functional capacity (RFC).
he was not required to, the ALJ proceeded to make an
alternative fifth step determination. At the hearing, the ALJ
questioned a vocational expert to determine whether a
significant number of other jobs exist in the economy that
Plaintiff could perform given her limitations. See
Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964. The expert testified that
Plaintiff could perform the following work: nurse aide (12,
000 jobs in Michigan and 210, 000 jobs in the nation) and
home attendant (4, 000 jobs in Michigan and 77, 000 jobs in
the nation.) (PageID.78.) Based on this record, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff was capable of making a successful adjustment
to work that exists in significant numbers in the national
the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled from June
30, 2008, through August 28, 2014, ...