United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
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 Dawn Weeks seeks review of the
Commissioner's decision denying her claim for
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title 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.
previously filed a claim for SSI alleging disability
beginning January 1, 1997. (PageID.104.) In a decision
entered on August 10, 2012, the Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ) found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe
impairments of substance abuse (ETOH, tobacco, marijuana, and
cocaine); affective disorder; alcohol-induced affective
disorder; personality disorder; and degenerative disc
disease, L5-S1 (PageID.106.) The ALJ determined that
Plaintiff could perform a range of light work, limited by
various physical and mental restrictions. (PageID.108.)
Ultimately, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not
disabled at step five, and that she could perform work in
Michigan such as office clerk (5, 400 jobs), courier and
messenger (2, 000 jobs) and production worker (1, 000 jobs).
(PageID.116.) Plaintiff did not further pursue this decision,
and accordingly it became the Commissioner's final
April 23, 2013, Plaintiff filed a new application for SSI.
(PageID.122, 188-196.) Plaintiff alleged that she was
disabled due to severe depressive disorder, PTSD,
hypertension, and back problems. (PageID.122.)
Plaintiff's application was denied on July 12, 2013,
after which time she sought review before an ALJ.
(PageID.142-145, 149-151.) On June 5, 2014, Plaintiff
appeared with her counsel before ALJ Richard Gartner for an
administrative hearing with testimony being offered by
Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (PageID.57-98.) The
ALJ issued a written decision on July 24, 2014. The ALJ began
by noting Plaintiff's prior application, and addressed it
The undersigned has considered Social Security Acquiescence
Ruling 98-3(6). Based on submission of new and material
evidence, the undersigned concludes that the requirement in
this ruling is not relevant to the specifics of the case at
(PageID.44.) The ALJ went on to conclude that Plaintiff was
not disabled, finding that there were a significant number of
jobs that she could perform. (PageID.41-56.) On December 14,
2015, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's
decision, making it the Commissioner's final decision in
the matter. (PageID.26-31.) 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.
§ 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. § 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.
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.
present case, ALJ Gartner determined that Plaintiff's
claim failed at the fifth step of the evaluation. At step
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since April 23, 2013,
Plaintiff's application date. (PageID.46.) At step two,
the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: (1) substance abuse; (2) major depressive
disorder; (3) chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD);
(4) affective disorder, alcohol induced; (5) personality
disorder; (6) degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine
at ¶ 5-S1; (7) peripheral vascular disease of the
bilateral extremities; and (8) hypertension. (PageID.46.) 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.
fourth step, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC
based on all the impairments:
to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) with
the following limitations: the claimant can lift or carry a
maximum of 20 pounds occasionally and less than10 pounds
frequently. In an eight-hour workday, the claimant can walk
or stand for six hours and sit for six hours. She is limited
to occasional postural maneuvers such as balancing, stooping,
kneeling, crouching, crawling and climbing ramps or stairs.
The claimant must avoid climbing ladders, ropes and
scaffolds. She must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes,
odors, dusts, gases and environments with poor ventilation.
The claimant is limited to occupations which do not require
exposure to dangerous machinery and unprotected heights. She
is limited to occasional pushing and pulling with lower
bilateral extremities to include the operation of foot
pedals. The claimant is limited to simple, routine,
repetitive tasks not performed in a fast pace production
environment involving only simple, work related decisions,
and in general, relatively few work place changes. She is
limited to occupations which do not involve the handling,
sale or access to alcoholic beverages or narcotic drugs.
(PageID.49.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ
determined found that Plaintiff had no past relevant work.
(PageID.51.) At the fifth step, the ALJ questioned the VE to
determine whether a significant number of jobs exist in the
economy that Plaintiff could perform given her limitations.
See Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964. The VE testified
that Plaintiff could perform the following work: dishwasher
(141, 000 national jobs), packer (150, 000 national jobs),
and cleaner of vehicles (72, 000 national jobs).
(PageID.90-92.) Based on this record, the ALJ found that