United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
MARGARET L. SHEPARD, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant,
PAUL L. MALONEY United States District Judge.
a social security action brought under 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) under Title II 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. The Commissioner has found
that Plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the 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 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 forty-eight years of age as of her date last insured.
(PageID.744, 765.) She possesses a high school education and
previously worked as a mail carrier. (PageID.203, 948.)
Plaintiff applied for benefits on July 14, 2010, alleging
that she had been disabled since January 30, 2002, due to
bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, reflex sympathetic
dystrophy (RSD) syndrome, complex regional pain syndrome,
bipolar disorder, depression, lumbar spondylosis,
degenerative disc disease, peripheral neuropathy, and
arthritis. (PageID.126, 175-178.) Plaintiff's application
was denied on November 10, 2010, after which time Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
(PageID.133-137, 140-141.) On July 20, 2011, Plaintiff
appeared with her counsel before ALJ Dennis Matulewicz for an
administrative hearing at which time both Plaintiff and a
vocational expert (VE) testified. (PageID.86-123.) In a
written decision dated August 9, 2011, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.46-65.) On August
17, 2012, the Appeals Council declined to review the
thereafter appealed the Commissioner's decision to United
States District Court, and on November 18, 2013, District
Judge Paul Borman from the Eastern District of Michigan
determined the ALJ's decision was unsupported by
substantial evidence and remanded the case. (PageID.840-852.)
Accordingly, in an order dated May 27, 2014, the Appeals
Council vacated the Commissioner's decision and remanded
the case for further proceedings. (PageID.853-856.) Pursuant
to the remand order, a second administrative hearing was
conducted by ALJ Janice Holmes on October 9, 2014, at which
time both Plaintiff and a VE testified. (PageID.760-791.) At
the hearing, Plaintiff amended her onset date to June 1,
2007. (PageID.784, 924.) On December 31, 2014, ALJ Holmes
issued her written decision concluding Plaintiff was not
disabled. (PageID.739-759.) On January 14, 2016, the Appeals
Council declined to review the ALJ's decision, making it
the Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.686-692.) Plaintiff subsequently initiated this
action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
insured status expired on June 30, 2007. (PageID.744.)
Accordingly, to be eligible for DIB under Title II of the
Social Security Act, Plaintiff must establish that she became
disabled prior to the expiration of her insured status.
See 42 U.S.C. § 423; Moon v. Sullivan,
923 F.2d 1175, 1182 (6th Cir. 1990).
social security regulations articulate a five-step sequential
process for evaluating disability. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(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). 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.
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.
Holmes determined Plaintiff's claim failed at step five.
At step one the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity during the period between her
amended alleged disability onset date of June 1, 2007, and
her date last insured of June 30, 2007. (PageID.744.) At step
two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following
severe impairments: (1) complex regional pain syndrome /
reflex sympathetic dystrophy; (2) degenerative disc disease;
(3) bipolar/depression; and (4) status/post carpal tunnel
release. (PageID.744.) 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.744-746.) At step four, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff retained the RFC based on all the impairments to
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) with the
following: She would require a sit/stand option, at will, and
would not take her off task more than 10%. She could never
climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps
and stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and balance. She
could occasionally handle, finger and feel bilaterally with
the upper extremities; would have to avoid exposure to
hazards such as unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts,
and operating motor vehicles. She can perform simple, routine
tasks; no contact with the public; and only occasional
changes in the work setting.
(PageID.746-747.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any of her
past relevant work. (PageID.753.) 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 work as a
machine tender with 101, 000 such positions existing in the
national economy. (PageID.784-787.) 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 economy. (PageID.754.)
the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled from June
1, 2007, her amended alleged onset date, through June 30,
2007, her date last insured. (PageID.754.)
ALJ Holmes Was Not Bound by the RFC From a ...