United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
L. MALONEY 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) denying Plaintiff's 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.
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 thirty-nine years of age on the date of the ALJ's
decision. (PageID.46, 141, 151.) She obtained a college
degree, and was previously employed as a cashier / customer
service clerk, shift supervisor, customer service
representative, mail carrier, and delivery driver.
(PageID.58, 72-73.) Plaintiff applied for benefits on
February 2, 2013, alleging that she had been disabled since
October 31, 2011, due to anxiety, panic attacks, and
depression. (PageID.141, 151, 241-252.) These applications
were denied on July 17, 2013, after which time Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an ALJ. (PageID.164-176.) On
November 12, 2014, Plaintiff appeared with her counsel before
ALJ Michael Condon for an administrative hearing at which
time both Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified.
(PageID.66-134.) On January 30, 2015, the ALJ issued his
written decision, concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(PageID.46-65.) On January 20, 2016, the Appeals Council
declined to review the ALJ's decision, making it the
Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.31-34.) 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.
determined Plaintiff's claim failed at step five. At step
one the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since her alleged disability
onset date. (PageID.51.)
two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following
severe impairments: (1) major depressive disorder, recurrent,
moderate; (2) generalized anxiety / panic disorder with
agoraphobia; and (3) personality disorder. (PageID.51.) At
step three, 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 found in 20
C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. (PageID.52-53.) At step
four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC based on
all the impairments to perform:
a full range of work at all exertional levels with the
following nonexertional limitations: she is limited to
performing simple, routine, repetitive tasks involving no
more than simple work-related decisions; she cannot tolerate
more than occasional workplace changes which must be
gradually introduced; she requires a low-stress work
environment (i.e., one that involves no specific production
quotas); and she cannot maintain contact with the general
public or more than brief, superficial contact with
co-workers and supervisors.
(PageID.53.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform her past
relevant work. (PageID.58.) 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 the
following work: machine feeder (15, 500 regional positions),
cleaner (25, 600 regional positions), and packager (7, 200
regional positions). (PageID.128-129.) 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 ...