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Oraha v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

November 3, 2016





         Plaintiff Khalida Oraha seeks judicial review of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's determination that she is not entitled to Social Security benefits for her physical and mental impairments under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Docket no. 1.) Before the Court are Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 14) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 15). 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. 4.) The Court has reviewed the pleadings, dispenses with a hearing pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(f)(2), and issues this Report and Recommendation.


         For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 14) be DENIED and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 15) be GRANTED.


         Plaintiff filed applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits with a protective filing date of October 9, 2012, alleging that she had been disabled since November 2, 2011, primarily due to injuries she sustained in an automobile accident. (TR 98-106, 176.) The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiffs claims on March 19, 2013, and Plaintiff requested a de novo hearing. (TR 73, 79-80.) On May 30, 2014, Plaintiff appeared with a representative and testified at the hearing before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Timothy Christensen. (TR 35-52.) In an August 6, 2014 decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits because she was capable of performing a significant number of jobs in the national economy. (TR 17-30.) The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision (TR 1-6), and Plaintiff commenced this action for judicial review. The parties then filed cross motions for summary judgment, which are currently before the Court. (Docket nos. 14, 15.) Plaintiff filed a Reply to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket no. 16.)


         Plaintiff (docket no. 14 at 6-12, 16-21) and the ALJ (TR 18-28) each set out a detailed, factual recitation with regard to Plaintiffs medical record and the hearing testimony. Defendant also discusses Plaintiffs medical record. (Docket no. 15 at 6-7.) Having conducted an independent review of Plaintiff s medical record and the hearing transcript, the undersigned finds that there are no material inconsistencies among these recitations of the record, with one minor exception, which is addressed below. Therefore, the undersigned incorporates the factual recitations by reference. Additionally, the undersigned will include comments and citations to the record as necessary throughout this Report and Recommendation.


         The ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 16, 2016; that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of November 2, 2011; and that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: residuals from a lumbar spine fracture, spondylolisthesis to the lumbar spine, cervical radiculopathy, residuals from a closed head injury, post-concussive syndrome, diabetes, residuals from knee arthroscopy, and an adjustment disorder with post-traumatic stress disorder features and anxiety. (TR 14.) Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiffs impairments, either individually or when combined, did not meet or medically equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (TR 15-17.) The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the following Residual Functional Capacity (RFC):

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) with exceptions. Specifically, the claimant is able to lift up to 20 pounds occasionally and up to 10 pounds frequently, stand and/or walk up to 6 hours in an 8-hour workday and sit [up] ¶ 6 hours in an 8-hour workday with a sit/stand option. She is never to climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, but is occasionally able to climb ramps and stairs, and balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. She is to avoid hazards. Mentally, she is limited to simple and routine tasks with brief and superficial contact with others.

(TR 17-28.) In so finding, the ALJ also determined that Plaintiffs "statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of [her] symptoms are not entirely credible." (TR 18.)

         The ALJ questioned a qualified Vocational Expert (VE) regarding whether there would be any jobs available for a person with Plaintiffs RFC. (TR 49-50.) The VE testified that there would be, and gave examples of a hand packager, a small products assembler, or a visual inspector checker, of which there are a number of jobs locally and nationally. (Id.) Subsequently, in reliance on the testimony of the Vocational Expert (VE), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing a significant number of jobs in the national economy. (TR 29-30.) Therefore, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act at any time from November 2, 2011, through the date of the decision. (TR 12, 30.)


         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 Consol. 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 & 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 & 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

         Plaintiffs Social Security disability determination was made in accordance with a five-step sequential analysis. In the first ...

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