United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
S. CARMODY United States Magistrate Judge
an action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review a final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's
claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of
the Social Security Act. On May 19, 2016, the parties agreed
to proceed in this Court for all further proceedings,
including an order of final judgment. (ECF No. 10).
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.
The Commissioner has found that Plaintiff is not disabled
within the meaning of the Act. For the reasons stated below,
the Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the
Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
Court's jurisdiction is confined to a review of the
Commissioner's decision and of the record made in the
administrative hearing process. See Willbanks v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 847 F.2d 301,
303 (6th Cir. 1988). 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 and Human Services, 889 F.2d 679,
681 (6th Cir. 1989).
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 Dep't of
Health and Human Services, 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 and Human Services, 735 F.2d 962,
963 (6th Cir. 1984).
been widely recognized, 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 50 years of age on her alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.196). She successfully completed high school and
worked previously as a nurse's aid, cashier/checker, and
sales attendant. (PageID.56). Plaintiff applied for benefits
on May 10, 2013, alleging that she had been disabled since
April 24, 2013, due to arthritis in her left knee,
intermittent leg numbness, back problems, muscle cramping,
and difficulty standing for long periods of time.
(PageID.196-208, 236). Plaintiff's application was
denied, after which time she requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (PageID.93-194). On January
29, 2015, Plaintiff appeared before ALJ Mark Kim with
testimony being offered by Plaintiff and a vocational expert.
(PageID.62-91). In a written decision dated March 3, 2015,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(PageID.49-58). The Appeals Council declined to review the
ALJ's determination, rendering it the Commissioner's
final decision in the matter. (PageID.34-37). Plaintiff
subsequently initiated this pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision.
OF THE ALJ'S DECISION
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 her residual functional capacity.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545, 416.945.
burden of establishing the right to benefits rests squarely
on Plaintiff's shoulders, and she can satisfy her burden
by demonstrating that her impairments are so severe that she
is unable to perform her previous work, and cannot,
considering her age, education, and work experience, perform
any other substantial gainful employment existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. See 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); Cohen, 964 F.2d at 528.
While the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner at step
five of the sequential evaluation process, Plaintiff bears
the burden of proof through step four of the procedure, the
point at which her residual functioning capacity (RFC) is
determined. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146
n.5 (1987); Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127
F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997) (ALJ determines RFC at step
four, at which point claimant bears the burden of proof).
determined that Plaintiff suffers from: (1) obesity; (2)
sacroiliac joint disease; (3) knee pain; (4) foot pain; (5)
hip pain; and (6) lumbosacral spondylosis with radiculopathy,
severe impairments that whether considered alone or in
combination with other impairments, failed to satisfy the
requirements of any impairment identified in the Listing of
Impairments detailed in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. (PageID.52-53). With respect to Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
retained the ability to perform light work subject to the
following limitations: (1) she can only occasionally balance,
kneel, crouch, or climb ramps/stairs; (2) she can frequently
stoop; (3) she can never crawl or climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; (4) she should avoid all exposure to hazards such
as moving machinery and unprotected heights; (5) she must be
permitted to alternate between sitting and standing while
remaining on task, meaning that she is allowed to stand for
fifteen minutes after sitting for one hour, before returning
to the seated position; and (6) she is limited to performing
simple tasks. (PageID.54).
found that Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant
work at which point the burden of proof shifted to the
Commissioner to establish by substantial evidence that a
significant number of jobs exist in the national economy
which Plaintiff could perform, her limitations
notwithstanding. See Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964.
While the ALJ is not required to question a vocational expert
on this issue, “a finding supported by substantial
evidence that a claimant has the vocational qualifications to
perform specific jobs” is needed to meet the
burden. O'Banner v. Sec'y of Health and Human
Services, 587 F.2d 321, 323 (6th Cir. 1978) (emphasis
added). This standard requires more than mere intuition or
conjecture by the ALJ that the claimant can perform specific
jobs in the national economy. See Richardson, 735
F.2d at 964. Accordingly, ALJs routinely question ...