United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
DEBORAH K. SAMONS, 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 Deborah Samons 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 forty-eight years of age on the date of the
Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) decision. (PageID.46,
98, 108.) She completed high school, attended one year of
college, and was previously employed as a health care aide.
(PageID.90-91.) Plaintiff applied for benefits on November
28, 2012, alleging that she had been disabled since September
1, 2011, due to hip degeneration, disc disease, neck and back
problems, fibromyalgia, and high blood pressure. (PageID.98,
108, 185-192.) Plaintiff's applications were denied on
April 30, 2013, after which time she requested a hearing
before an ALJ. (PageID.122-142.) On March 20, 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.65-96.) That
same day, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to June 1,
2012. (PageID.205.) In a written decision dated May 22, 2014,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(PageID.46-60.) On September 9, 2015, the Appeals Council
declined to review the ALJ's decision, making it the
Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.34-38.) 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.
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 her alleged disability onset date. (PageID.51.) At step
two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: (1) degenerative disease of the lumbosacral
spine; (2) degenerative disease of the cervical spine; (3)
asthma; and (4) hypertension. (PageID.51-52.) 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.52.) At
the fourth step, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the
RFC based on all the impairments:
to perform a limited range of sedentary work as defined in 20
CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) with no climbing of ropes,
ladders, or scaffolds; with no more than occasional
balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, or
climbing of ramps or stairs; with no more than occasional use
of the upper or lower extremities for overhead reaching, or
pushing/pulling, including the operation of hand levers or
foot pedals; and with no exposure to dangerous machinery or
(PageID.52.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any of her
past relevant work. (PageID.54.) 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 other work
as a general office clerk (142, 000 jobs), information clerk
(88, 000 jobs), and sorter / packer (87, 000 jobs).
(PageID.91-92.) 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 her
alleged onset date through May 22, 2014, ...