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Price v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

December 26, 2016

Joe Lathan Price, III, Plaintiff,
Commissioner Of Social Security, Defendant,


          PHILLIP J. GREEN United States Magistrate Judge

         This is 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 seeks review of the Commissioner's decision denying his claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Section 405(g) limits the Court to a review of the administrative record, and provides that if the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it shall be conclusive.[1]

         Standard of Review

         The 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).

         Substantial 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 the 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.

         Procedural Posture

         Plaintiff protectively filed his applications for DIB and SSI in March 2012, alleging an April 20, 2012, onset of disability.[2] (PageID.344-49, 359-60, 378). Plaintiff's applications were denied at the initial level (PageID.161-72), and he requested an administrative hearing (PageID.200-01). The administrative law judge (ALJ) held a hearing on April 8, 2013 (PageID.117-59), and, on May 24, 2013, issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled (PageID.173-87). On September 10, 2014, the Appeals Council reviewed this decision, and remanded plaintiff's claims for a new hearing. (PageID.191-93). Upon remand, a different ALJ held a hearing on January 21, 2015 (PageID.63-116), and, on May 28, 2015, issued a new decision, again finding that plaintiff was not disabled (PageID.41-56). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of this decision on April 12, 2016. (PageID.25-27). This action followed.

         Plaintiff filed this action, pro se, on May 17, 2016. (Complaint, ECF No. 1). On June 2, 2016, the Court granted plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF No. 4). By notice entered August 8, 2016, the Court directed the parties to file briefs in support of their respective positions, plaintiff by September 12, 2016, and the Commissioner by October 17, 2016. (ECF No. 9). The Court noted its expectation of strict compliance with the briefing requirements. (See id., PageID.787).

         On September 15, 2016, the Court issued a show-cause order, as a result of plaintiff's failure to file his brief, requiring plaintiff “to show cause in writing why this case should not be dismissed for his failure to file a brief in accordance with the court's notice (ECF No. 9).” (ECF No. 13, PageID.798 (citing W.D. Mich. LCivR 41.1)). Plaintiff responded on September 21, 2016, simply noting that his niece wrote “a letter” on August 17, 2016, to “tell [the Court] that [he is] disable[d] and the [problems he has].” (ECF No. 14, PageID.799). The Court found this letter attached to the Joint Statement Regarding Consent, which was filed August 17, 2016; it reads in full as follows:

To whom it may concern.
The purpose for Joe Price requesting SSI is because of his mental health. He is mentally retarded I believe. Simple things that most people can do he can't or you have to tell him over and over and he still may not do it. He suffers from [schizophrenia], he often talks to himself and seems to be in another world. He is a very hard person to deal with sometimes because of his mental state. It takes a lot of love and patience when dealing with him. As time goes by it seems to worse[n], he needs held with more things then before. Hopefully he will finally get the help he needs.

(ECF No. 11-1, PageID.796). It is signed “N. Price, ” and it is dated August 10, 2016. (Id.).

         On October 13, 2016, the Commissioner filed her brief. (ECF No. 15). The Commissioner argues that the ALJ properly determined that plaintiff was not disabled from April 20, 2012, his amended date of alleged onset of disability, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (Id., PageID.804-09). The Court has received no further submissions from plaintiff.

         ALJ's ...

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