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) under Title II
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. 11). 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. 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 and Human Services, 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 and Human Services, 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 Dep't of
Health and Human Services, 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 in the record
fairly detracts from its weight. See Richardson v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 735 F.2d 962,
963 (6th Cir. 1984). As has been widely recognized, 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 55 years of age on his alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.212). He successfully completed high school and
previously worked as a headlight assembler, metal building
assembler, maintenance worker, and die setter. (PageID.104,
228). Plaintiff applied for benefits on December 9, 2013,
alleging that he had been disabled since January 9, 2011, due
to illiteracy, bad back, bone spur on his toe, tendonitis in
both elbows, and broken collarbones. (PageID.212-13, 227).
Plaintiff's applications were denied, after which time he
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
October 29, 2014, Plaintiff appeared before ALJ Paul
Greenberg with testimony being offered by Plaintiff and a
vocational expert. (PageID.70-114). In a written decision
dated February 19, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding
that Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.59-65). The Appeals
Council declined to review the ALJ's determination,
rendering it the Commissioner's final decision in the
matter. (PageID.47-51). Plaintiff subsequently initiated this
appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial
review of the ALJ's decision.
OF THE ALJ'S DECISION
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 his residual functional capacity.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545, 416.945.
burden of establishing the right to benefits rests squarely
on Plaintiff's shoulders, and he can satisfy his burden
by demonstrating that his impairments are so severe that he
is unable to perform his previous work, and cannot,
considering his 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 his residual functioning
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) (ALJ
determines RFC at step four, at which point claimant bears
the burden of proof).
determined that Plaintiff suffered from degenerative disc
disease, a severe impairment that whether considered alone or
in combination with other impairments, failed to satisfy the
requirements of any impairment identified in the Listing of
Impairments detailed in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. (PageID.60-62). With respect to Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform medium
subject to the following limitations: (1) he can only
frequently climb ramps or stairs; (2) he can only frequently
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; and (3) he can only
occasionally climb ladders or scaffolds. (PageID.62). A
vocational expert testified that, if limited to the extent
reflected in the ALJ's RFC determination, Plaintiff could
still perform his past relevant work as a headlight assembler
and maintenance worker. (PageID.103-05). The ALJ concluded,
therefore, that Plaintiff was not entitled to disability
Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity
claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) represents
his ability to perform “work-related physical and
mental activities in a work setting on a regular and
continuing basis, ” defined as “8 hours a day,
for 5 days a week, or an equivalent work schedule.”
Social Security Ruling 96-8P, 1996 WL 374184 at *1 (Social
Security Administration, July 2, 1996); see also,
Payne v. Commissioner of Social Security, 402
Fed.Appx. 109, 116 (6th Cir., Nov. 18, 2010). As noted above,
the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff retained the ability to
perform a range of medium work. Plaintiff argues that he is
entitled to relief because the ALJ's RFC determination is
not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically,
Plaintiff asserts that he is limited to light work. The scant
medical evidence, however, supports the ALJ's conclusion.
19, 2012, Plaintiff was examined by Physician's
Assistant, Amy Werling. (PageID.329-32). Plaintiff reported
that he was experiencing persistent back pain. (PageID.329).
Straight leg raising was negative and an examination of
Plaintiff's lumbar spine revealed “pain free active
ROM [range of motion] with no limiting factors.”
(PageID.331). An examination of Plaintiff's lower
extremities revealed “normal” strength with no
evidence of neurovascular abnormality. (PageID.331).
Plaintiff was prescribed medication and and instructed to
perform back stretching exercises. (PageID.331).
September 20, 2012, examination revealed “normal range
of motion, muscle strength, and stability in all extremities
with no pain on palpation.” (PageID.327). An
examination of Plaintiff's lumbar spine revealed
“no. . .tenderness with “normal mobility and
curvature.” (PageID.327). Plaintiff reported that his
“symptoms are relieved by walking.” (PageID.326).
Plaintiff was advised to participate in physical therapy.
(PageID.327). A December 17, 2012 examination revealed
similar findings. (PageID.322-25).
18, 2013, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. R. Scott Lazzara.
(PageID.347-51). Plaintiff reported that he experiences
“chronic back pain.” (PageID.347). Plaintiff
reported that he discontinued working, not because of any
impairment, but because “he was having issues with
co-workers.” (PageID.347). Plaintiff reported that he
now “mostly spends his time working on his tractor at
home.” (PageID.347). Plaintiff reported that he had not
participated in physical therapy. (PageID.347). A
musculoskeletal examination revealed:
There is no evidence of joint laxity, crepitance, or
effusion. Grip strength remains intact. Dexterity is
unimpaired. The patient could pick up a coin, button clothing
and open a door. The patient had no difficulty getting on and
off the examination table, mild difficulty heel and toe
walking, mild difficulty squatting, and no difficulty
hopping. There is thoracic ...