United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
ERICKA M. THOMAS, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant,
J. JONKER, CHIEF 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). Plaintiff seeks review of the
Commissioner's decision that she was no longer entitled
to supplemental security income (SSI).
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.
summarized the procedural history of this case as follows:
In an initial determination from October 2005, the claimant
was found disabled as of October 1, 1995 pertaining to her
claims for supplemental security income and childhood
disability insurance (on the record of CM Thomas). The
claimant's disability was subsequently determined to have
continued in a determination dated November 29, 2005 (Exhibit
The Social Security Administration completed a second
continuing disability review and, on July 24, 2012, it
determined that the claimant was no longer disabled as of
July 1, 2012. This determination was upheld upon
reconsideration after a disability hearing by a State agency
Disability Hearing Officer. Thereafter, the claimant filed
[a] timely written request for a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge.
From there, Plaintiff appeared with her counsel before ALJ
James Prothro for an administrative hearing on June 26, 2014.
(PageID.48-96.) On September 12, 2014, the ALJ issued his
decision finding that Plaintiff was no longer disabled.
(PageID.33-47.) On January 11, 2016, the Appeals Council
denied review, making it the Commissioner's final
decision. (PageID.28-31.) This action followed.
employ an eight-step sequential analysis in Title II claims
and seven steps in Title XVI claims when assessing a
continuation of benefits case. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1594(f). Steps two through eight in Title II
claims mirror steps one through seven in Title XVI.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1594(f), 416.994(b).
Title II, unlike Title XVI, has one addition step to begin
the analysis: namely whether the individual is engaging in
substantial gainful activity. If the answer was yes, the
individual's disability has ended. If no, the analysis
continues through the following steps.
two of Title II (step one of Title XVI) is an examination of
whether the individual had an impairment or combination of
impairments which meets or equals the severity of a listed
impairment. If the answer was yes, disability continues. Step
three (step two of Title XVI) is an inquiry as to whether
there had been medical improvement. Step four (step three of
Title XVI) is an examination whether the medical improvement
is related to the individual's ability to perform work.
Step five (step four of Title XVI) is an analysis conducted
if there has been no medical improvement or the medical
improvement is not related to the individual's ability to
perform work. Step six (step five of Title XVI) is a
determination whether the individual's current
impairments are severe. If there is no severe impairment, the
individual is not disabled. Step seven (step six of Title
XVI) is an assessment of the claimant's “ability to
do substantial gainful activity” in accordance with 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1560, 416.960. That is, the ALJ
determines the individual's residual functional capacity
(RFC) based on all her current impairments and considers
whether she can perform past relevant work. If she can
perform such work, she is not disabled. Finally step eight
(step seven of Title XVI) is an administrative finding
whether the individual can perform other work in light of her
age, education, work experience and RFC. If she is capable of
performing other work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1594(f), 416.994(b); see also Hagans v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 694 F.3d 287, 307-08 (3d Cir.
2012); Delph v. Astrue, 538 F.3d 940, 945-46 (8th
began his discussion by finding that the administrative
decision dated November 29, 2005, was the most recent
favorable decision that Plaintiff was disabled. It was
“the ‘comparison point decision' or
CPD.” (PageID.38.) At the time of the CPD, Plaintiff
had the medically determinable impairment of asthma that was
severe enough to meet the requirements of Section 3.03B of
the Listing of Impairments (“Listings”).
(PageID.38.) Continuing with the analysis, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had never engaged in substantial gainful activity,
including the period since July 1, 2012, the date her
disability ended. (PageID.38.) The ALJ next found that the
medical evidence established that as of July 1, 2012,
Plaintiff had the medically determinable impairments of: (1)
asthma; (2) migraine headaches (cervicalgia); (3) status-post
left shoulder SLAP lesion surgery [January 2014] with
left-sided neck pain; (4) degenerative disc disease with low
back pain; (5) depression; (6) anxiety; and (7) opioid
dependence [Vicodin, Dilaudid]. (PageID.39.) The ALJ
determined these were Plaintiff's severe impairments.
(PageID.39.) Next, the ALJ found that since July 1, 2012,
these impairments did not meet or medically equal the
severity of any listed impairment, including Listings 1.02,
1.04, 1.08, 3.02, 3.03, 12.04, and 12.06. (PageID.39.) The
ALJ continued by finding that medical improvement occurred as
of July 1, 2012, and that this improvement was related to