United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
CHRISTA L. PHILLIPS, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant
GORDON J. QUIST UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) seeking judicial review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(Commissioner). Plaintiff Christa Phillips 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
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 evidence 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 forty years of age on the date of the ALJ's decision
(PageID.48, 106.) She completed two years of college, and was
previously employed as a secretary. (PageID.232.) Plaintiff
filed for benefits on April 15, 2014, alleging that she had
been disabled since September 5, 2013, due to an
intramedullary spinal tumor, S/P C2-4 laminectomy, and
resection of the tumor.(PageID.106, 174-108.) Plaintiff's
application was denied on July 11, 2014, after which time she
sought a hearing before an ALJ. (PageID.118-124.) On August
27, 2015, Plaintiff appeared with her counsel before ALJ
Davida Isaacs during which time both Plaintiff and a
vocational expert (VE) testified. (PageID.72-104.) On
September 23, 2015, the ALJ issued a partially favorable
decision, finding Plaintiff was disabled from her alleged
onset date through September 30, 2014, but not thereafter.
(PageID.48-71.) On December 15, 2015, the Appeals Council
declined to review the ALJ's decision, making it the
Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.33-38.) 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.
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of
September 5, 2013. (PageID.56.) At step two, the ALJ found
that at all times relevant to the decision, Plaintiff
suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative
disc disease, status-post intramedullary spinal tumor
resection and laminectomy, optic meningioma, and obesity.
(PageID.56.) At step three, the ALJ found that at all
relevant times, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or equaled the
requirements of the Listing of Impairments in 20 C.F.R. Pt.
404, Subpt. P, App. 1. (PageID.56.)
Plaintiff's Condition Prior to October 1, 2014.
decided at the fourth step that prior to October 1, 2014,
Plaintiff had the RFC based on all the impairments:
to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except she could only occasionally lift and carry
up to ten pounds and frequently lift and carry up to five
pounds. She could no more than occasionally push/pull with
her non-dominant left arm. She could no more than
occasionally flex or extend her neck or reach overhead. She
had to shift position, such as standing up, every fifteen
minutes while remaining on-task. The claimant could never
balance on uneven surfaces. She required an assistive device
to climb stairs or ramps. She could never climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant had no depth perception and
could not perform work requiring any visual acuity on the
right. She would be absent from work three to four days per
month due to pain.
(PageID.57.) Based on testimony of the VE, the ALJ concluded
that under the above RFC, Plaintiff could not perform any of
her past relevant work, and that there were no other jobs
existing in significant numbers in the national economy that
Plaintiff could have performed. (PageID.60-61.) Accordingly,
the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was under a disability from
her alleged onset date through September 30, 2014.
Plaintiff's Condition Since October 1, 2014.
decided that as of October 1, 2014, Plaintiff underwent
medical improvement, and that it was related to her ability
to work. (PageID.62.) The ALJ found that as of October 1,
2014, Plaintiff then retained the RFC:
to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except she can only occasionally lift and carry up
to ten pounds and frequently lift and carry up to five
pounds. She can no more than occasionally push/pull with her
non-dominant left arm. She can no more than occasionally flex
or extend her neck or reach overhead. She has to shift
position, such as standing up, every fifteen minutes while
remaining on-task. The claimant can never balance on uneven
surfaces. She requires an assistive device to climb stairs or
ramps. She can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The
claimant has no depth perception and cannot perform work
requiring any visual acuity on the right.
(PageID.63.) The ALJ next determined that Plaintiff would
still be unable to perform her past relevant work as a
secretary. (PageID.65.) 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 since October 1, 2014. See Richardson,
735 F.2d at 964. The VE testified that Plaintiff could
perform the following work: parking booth cashier (50, 000
national jobs), production inspector (30, 000 national jobs),
and office helper (70, 000 national jobs). (PageID.100-102.)
Based on this record, the ...