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. The parties have agreed to proceed
in this Court for all further proceedings, including an order
of final judgment. (ECF No. 9).
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). 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 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). As has 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 48 years of age on his alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.297). He successfully completed high school and
previously worked as a car assembler and cleaner.
(PageID.49-50). Plaintiff applied for benefits on February
17, 2011, alleging that he had been disabled since August 21,
2009, due to herniated discs in his lower back and HIV.
(PageID.297-305, 367). Plaintiff's applications were
denied, after which time he requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (PageID.188).
27, 2012, Plaintiff appeared before ALJ Lawrence Blatnik with
testimony being offered by Plaintiff and a vocational expert.
(PageID.92-137). In a written decision dated September 19,
2012, the ALJ issued a partially-favorable decision.
(PageID.188-200). Specifically, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was disabled as of June 6, 2011, but not prior
thereto. (PageID.188-200). Because Plaintiff's insured
status expired on March 31, 2010, the effect of this decision
was to deny Plaintiff's request for DIB benefits while
granting his request for SSI benefits. (PageID.199-200).
Plaintiff appealed the matter to the Appeal Council which
vacated ALJ Blatnik's opinion, “including the part
favorable to [Plaintiff], ” and remanded the matter to
the ALJ with instructions to address several analytical
3, 2014, ALJ Blatnik conducted a second evidentiary hearing
at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert testified.
(PageID.57-91). On August 27, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision
finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.38-51). The
Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's
determination, rendering it the Commissioner's final
decision in the matter. (PageID.25-30). Plaintiff
subsequently initiated this appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), seeking judicial review of the ALJ's
insured status expired on March 31, 2010. (PageID.191). To be
eligible for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of
the Social Security Act, Plaintiff must establish that he
became disabled prior to the expiration of his insured
status. See 42 U.S.C. § 423; Moon v.
Sullivan, 923 F.2d 1175, 1182 (6th Cir. 1990).
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 his 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 he can satisfy his burden
by demonstrating that his impairments are so severe that he
is unable to perform his previous work, and cannot,
considering his 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, Plaintiff bears the burden of proof through step four
of the procedure, the point at which his residual functioning
capacity (RFC) is determined. See Bowen v. Yuckert,