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Berge v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Northern Division

January 17, 2017

ALLEN L. BERGE, Plaintiff,
v.
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.

         I. OPINION

         A. Introduction and Procedural History

         Pursuant 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).

         On 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).

         B. Standard of Review

         The 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).

         The 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 omitted).

         C. Framework for Disability Determinations

         Under 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 analysis.
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 analysis.
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)).

         Under 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.

         D.ALJ Findings

         Following 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).

         E. ...


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