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Quinton v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

January 13, 2017

REUBEN M. QUINTON, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant,

          OPINION

          ROBERT J. JONKER, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is 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 Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title 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. The Commissioner has found that Plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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 & 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).

         Substantial 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.

         PROCEDURAL POSTURE

         Plaintiff was forty-four years of age on the date of the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) decision. (PageID.55, 127.) He earned a GED and previously worked as a roofer, siding installer, and pump helper. (PageID.118, 245.) Plaintiff applied for benefits on August 6, 2013, alleging that he had been disabled since November 4, 2010, due to chronic severe back pain, issues stemming from a back injury and spinal fusion, deterioration of his vertebrae, depression, and medication side effects of anxiety, dizziness, and blackouts.[1] (PageID.127, 201-214.) Plaintiff's application was denied on October 4, 2013, and Plaintiff subsequently requested a hearing before an ALJ. (PageID.154-160.) On October 1, 2014, Plaintiff appeared with his counsel before ALJ William Reamon for an administrative hearing at which time both Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified. (PageID.76-125.) On the same day, Plaintiff amended his alleged onset to his application date. (PageID.225.) In a written decision dated October 30, 2014, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.55-75.) Thereafter, on February 3, 2016, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision. (PageID.44-48.) Plaintiff subsequently initiated this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         ALJ'S DECISION

         The social security regulations articulate a five-step sequential process for evaluating disability. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a-f).[2] If the Commissioner can make a dispositive finding at any point in the review, no further finding is required. See 20 C.F.R. § 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. § 416.945.

         Plaintiff has the burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations caused by his impairments and that he 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.

         ALJ Reamon determined Plaintiff's claim failed at step five. At step one the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 6, 2013, the date of application. (PageID.60.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: (1) anxiety disorder; (2) post L4-5 lumbar fusion; (3) back and left lower extremity pain; (4) chronic asthma; and (5) left upper extremity tendon repair with index and middle finger range of motion and strength diminution. (PageID.60-61.) 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.62-63.) At step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC based on all the impairments to perform:

sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except no climbing of ladders, ropes and scaffolds; can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; can have no exposure to dangerous moving machinery or unprotected heights; can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, poor ventilation; can handle and finger with the left upper extremity no more than frequently; can understand, remember and carry out simple instructions and can occasionally interact with the general public, co-workers and supervisors.

(PageID.63.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any of his past relevant work. (PageID.68-69.) 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 his limitations. See Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964. The VE testified that Plaintiff could perform work as an office clerk (3, 000 regional and 105, 000 national positions), order clerk (2, 000 regional and 70, 000 national positions), and machine tender (2, 000 regional and 70, 000 national positions). (PageID.121-122.) 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.70.)

         Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled from August 6, 2013, through October 30, 2014, ...


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