United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Northern Division
ALLEN L. BERGE, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S OPINION AND ORDER ON CROSS
MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOCS. 15, 18)
Patricia T. Morris United States Magistrate Judge.
Introduction and Procedural History
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), E.D. Mich. LR 72.1(b)(3),
and by Notice of Reference, this case was referred to the
undersigned Magistrate Judge for the purpose of reviewing a
final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff Allen L. Berge
(“Berge”) claim for a period of disability and
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act 42 U.S.C. § 401 et
seq. (Doc. 3). The matter is currently before the Court
on cross-motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 15, 18).
August 8, 2013, Berge filed an application for DIB, alleging
a disability onset date of March 21, 2012. (Tr. 179-85). The
Commissioner denied his claim. (Tr. 107-15). Berge then
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), which occurred on August 14, 2014 before
ALJ Janice L. Holmes. (Tr. 70-106). At the hearing,
Berge-represented by his attorney, Lewis Seward-testified,
alongside Vocational Expert (“VE”) David
Holwerda. (Id.). The ALJ's written decision,
issued September 16, 2014, found Berge not disabled. (Tr.
56-64). On September 16, 2015, the Appeals Council denied
review, (Tr. 1-7), and Berge filed for judicial review of
that final decision on March 15, 2016. (Doc. 1).
Standard of Review
district court has jurisdiction to review the
Commissioner's final administrative decision pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The district court's review is
restricted solely to determining whether the
“Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal
standard or has made findings of fact unsupported by
substantial evidence in the record.” Sullivan v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 595 F App'x. 502, 506 (6th
Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). Substantial
evidence is “more than a scintilla of evidence but less
than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
Court must examine the administrative record as a whole, and
may consider any evidence in the record, regardless of
whether it has been cited by the ALJ. See Walker v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 884 F.2d 241,
245 (6th Cir. 1989). The Court will not “try the case
de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide
questions of credibility.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir.
1994). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence, “it must be affirmed even if the
reviewing court would decide the matter differently and even
if substantial evidence also supports the opposite
conclusion.” Id. at 286 (internal citations
Framework for Disability Determinations
the Act, “DIB and SSI are available only for those who
have a ‘disability.'” Colvin v.
Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007).
“Disability” means the inability
to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of
any medically determinable physical or mental impairment
which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted
or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not
less than [twelve] months.
42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (DIB); 20
C.F.R. § 416.905(a) (SSI). The Commissioner's
regulations provide that disability is to be determined
through the application of a five-step sequential analysis:
Step One: If the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity, benefits are denied without further
Step Two: If the claimant does not have a severe impairment
or combination of impairments that “significantly
limits . . . physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities, ” benefits are denied without further
Step Three: If the claimant is not performing substantial
gainful activity, has a severe impairment that is expected to
last for at least twelve months, and the severe impairment
meets or equals one of the impairments listed in the
regulations, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be
disabled regardless of age, education or work experience.
Step Four: If the claimant is able to perform his or her past
relevant work, benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Five: Even if the claimant is unable to perform his or
her past relevant work, if other work exists in the national
economy that plaintiff can perform, in view of his or her
age, education, and work experience, benefits are denied.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. See also Heston
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir.
2001). “Through step four, the claimant bears the
burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations
caused by [his or] her impairments and the fact that she is
precluded from performing [his or] her past relevant
work.” Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336
F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). The burden transfers to the
Commissioner if the analysis reaches the fifth step without a
finding that the claimant is not disabled. Combs v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 643 (6th Cir.
2006). At the fifth step, the Commissioner is required to
show that “other jobs in significant numbers exist in
the national economy that [the claimant] could perform given
[his or] her RFC [residual functional capacity] and
considering relevant vocational factors.”
Rogers, 486 F.3d at 241 (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(a)(4)(v), (g)).
the authority of the Social Security Act, the SSA has
promulgated regulations that provide for the payment of
disabled child's insurance benefits if the claimant is at
least eighteen years old and has a disability that began
before age twenty-two (20 C.F.R. 404.350(a) (5) (2013). A
claimant must establish a medically determinable physical or
mental impairment (expected to last at least twelve months or
result in death) that rendered her unable to engage in
substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
The regulations provide a five-step sequential evaluation for
evaluating disability claims. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
the five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ found Berge not
disabled under the Act. (Tr. 56-64). At Step One, the ALJ
found that Berge had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity from his alleged onset date of March 21, 2012
through his date last insured (“DLI”) of December
31, 2013. (Tr. 58). At Step Two, the ALJ concluded that the
following impairments qualified as severe: “diabetes
mellitus, hypertension, a hernia, chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease, anemia, obstructive sleep apnea, and
chronic liver disease . . . .” (Id.). The ALJ
also decided, however, that none of these met or medically
equaled a listed impairment at Step Three. (Tr. 58-59).
Thereafter, the ALJ found that Berge had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work
with the following additional limitations:
[He] can stand or walk a maximum of four hours during an
eight hour workday, but can sit for six hours. He requires a
sit/stand option. He can frequently balance and occasionally
stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ladders, ropes,
scaffolds, ramps, and stairs. He should avoid concentrated
exposure to extreme cold, fumes, odors, dusts, gases,
chemicals, poor ventilation, and other pulmonary irritants.
(Tr. 59). At Step Four, the ALJ found Berge “unable to
perform any past relevant work” through his DLI. (Tr.
62). Proceeding to Step Five, the ALJ determined that
“there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in
the national economy that the claimant could have
performed.” (Tr. 63-64).