United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
J. QUIST 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) under Title II of the Social
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-three years of age on the date of the ALJ's
decision. (PageID.66, 140.) She previously obtained a high
school education and had been employed as an inspector and
fiberglass laminator. (PageID.92, 131-132.) Plaintiff applied
for benefits on November 13, 2012, alleging that she had been
disabled since December 11, 2010, due to rheumatoid arthritis
and depression. (PageID.140, 193-199.) This application was
denied on May 10, 2013, after which time Plaintiff requested
a hearing before an ALJ. (PageID.155-160.) On July 18, 2014,
Plaintiff appeared with her counsel before ALJ JoErin
O'Leary for an administrative hearing at which time both
Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified.
(PageID.87-138.) On September 3, 2014, the ALJ issued her
written decision, concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(PageID.66-86.) On February 8, 2016, the Appeals Council
declined to review the ALJ's decision, making it the
Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.31-35.) Plaintiff subsequently initiated this action
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
insured status expired on June 30, 2014. (PageID.140.)
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.
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
alleged disability onset date and her date last insured.
(PageID.71.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
suffered from the severe impairments of inflammatory
arthritis and fibromyalgia. (PageID.71-73.) 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.73.) At step four, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff retained the RFC based on all the
impairments to perform:
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except she can
only occasionally do bilateral handling and fingering. She
can only occasionally perform postural maneuvers such as
climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and
(PageID.73.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any of her
past relevant work. (PageID.80.) 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 in
the following representative jobs: assembler (55, 000
positions), machine operator(55, 000 national positions), and
inspector (55, 000 national positions). (PageID.133-134.)
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.81.)
the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled from
December 11, 2010, through June 30, 2014, the date last
ALJ's Analysis of Dr. Tania Lebaron's
in late 2010, Dr. Lebaron treated Plaintiff for her
rheumatoid arthritis. During the course of this treatment,
Dr. Lebaron completed several temporary work restrictions
that either removed Plaintiff from all work or limited
Plaintiff to only certain types of work. (PageID.396,
399-400, 405, 407-408, 413.) On September 28, 2011, in a note
similar to previous letters, Dr. Lebaron indicated that
Plaintiff “may return to work 10/1/2011. She may work a
maximum of 6 hours per day and 20 hours per week.”
(PageID.395.) Thus, the note indicated that Plaintiff was
unable to perform full time work. Moreover, contrary to the
previous notes, this note did not indicate an end date
regarding the restriction. Sometime later, on May 19, 2014,
Dr. Lebaron completed a medical source statement regarding
Plaintiff's limitations. Among other things, the doctor
indicated Plaintiff could occasionally lift and/or carry
twenty-five pound weights, and frequently lift and/or carry
ten pound weights. (PageID.693.) Plaintiff could stand or
walk about six hours in an eight hour workday, and Dr.
Lebaron noted Plaintiff's ability to sit was not affected
by her impairments. (PageID.693-694.) Plaintiff also could
only occasionally perform activities such as climbing,
balancing, kneeling, crouching, crawling, and stooping.
(PageID.694.) Finally, she was limited to only occasionally
handling and fingering. (PageID.695.) There was no
indication, however, that Plaintiff was limited to less than
full time work. The ALJ gave “some weight” to the
September 29, 2011 opinion and “great weight” to
the May 19, 2014, letter. (PageID.79-80.)
first and second claim of error, Plaintiff contends that the
ALJ should have given controlling weight to the September 28,
2011, opinion under the treating physician rule, and further
erred by picking and choosing from Dr. Lebaron's
opinions. The Court disagrees.
of background, the treating physician doctrine recognizes
that medical professionals who have a long history of caring
for a claimant and her maladies generally possess significant
insight into her medical condition. See Barker v.
Shalala, 40 F.3d 789, 794 (6th Cir. 1994). An ALJ must,
therefore, give controlling weight to the opinion of a
treating source if: (1) the opinion is “well-supported
by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques” and (2) the opinion “is not
inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in the case
record.” Gayheart v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
710 F.3d 365, 375-76 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1527). It is undisputed Dr. Lebaron qualifies as a
deference is appropriate, however, only where the particular
opinion “is based upon sufficient medical data.”
Miller v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs.,
1991 WL 229979, at *2 (6th Cir. Nov. 7, 1991) (citing
Shavers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs.,
839 F.2d 232, 235 n.1 (6th Cir. 1987)). The ALJ may reject
the opinion of a treating physician where it is unsupported
by the medical record, merely states a conclusion, or is
contradicted by substantial medical evidence. See
Cohen, 964 F.2d at 528; Miller, 1991 WL ...