United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
S. CARMODY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review a final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's
claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of
the Social Security Act. The parties have agreed to proceed
in this Court for all further proceedings, including an order
of final judgment. (ECF No. 8.)
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. For the reasons stated below,
the Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the
Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
Court's jurisdiction is confined to a review of the
Commissioner's decision and of the record made in the
administrative hearing process. See Willbanks v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 847 F.2d 301,
303 (6th Cir. 1988). 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).
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 fifty years of age on the date of the ALJ's decision.
(PageID.45, 72.) She possesses a high school education from
the country of Croatia and previously worked as an assembly
machine tender. (PageID.74, 91.) Plaintiff applied for
benefits on March 26, 2013, alleging that she had been
disabled since December 12, 2012, due to issues stemming from
surgery on both of her hands as well as carpal tunnel
syndrome. (PageID.100, 106, 169-170.) Plaintiff's
applications were denied on April 30, 2013, after which time
she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ). (PageID.112-119, 123-125.) On December 17, 2013,
Plaintiff appeared with her counsel before ALJ Carol Guyton
for an administrative hearing at which time both Plaintiff
(through an interpreter) and a vocational expert (VE)
testified. (PageID.65-97.) In a written decision dated May
30, 2014, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(PageID.45-64.) On September 18, 2015, the Appeals Council
declined to review the ALJ's decision, making it the
Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.18-21.) Plaintiff subsequently initiated this action
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
social security regulations articulate a five-step sequential
process for evaluating disability. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a-f), 416.920(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), 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.
§§ 404.1545, 416.945.
burden of establishing the right to benefits rests squarely
on Plaintiff's shoulders, and she can satisfy her burden
by demonstrating that her impairments are so severe that she
is unable to perform her previous work and cannot,
considering her age, education, and work experience, perform
any other substantial gainful employment existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. See 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); Cohen. 964 F.2d at 528.
While the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner at step
five, Plaintiff bears the burden of proof through step four
of the procedure, the point at which her residual functional
capacity (RFC) is determined. See Bowen v. Yuckert,
482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987); Walters v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997) (noting
that the ALJ determines RFC at step four, at which point the
claimant bears the burden of proof).
determined that Plaintiff's claim failed at step four. At
step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since her alleged disability
onset date of December 12, 2012. (PageID.50.) At step two,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following
severe impairments: (1) bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and
bilateral tenosynovitis, status post carpal tunnel release
and trigger thumb surgeries; (2) diabetes mellitus; (3)
obesity; (4) bipolar disorder; and (5) post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD). (PageID.50.) 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.50-52.) 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) and
416.967(b) except she can only frequently handle with both
hands. In addition, the claimant can perform unskilled work,
that is, simple routine tasks involving no more than simple
short instructions and simple work-related decisions with few
workplace changes. The claimant can have no contact with the
general public and only occasional contact with coworkers.
Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ posed the above RFC
in a hypothetical question to the VE. In response to the ALJ's
questioning, the VE testified that Plaintiff was able to
return to her past relevant work as an assembly machine
tender. (PageID.93.) Relying on the VE's testimony, the
ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing this
work both as it was generally and as it was actually
performed. (PageID.59.) Having made her determination at step
four, the ALJ completed the analysis and entered ...