United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
T. NEFF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) seeking judicial review of a final decision by the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(Commissioner). Plaintiff seeks review of the
Commissioner's decision denying her claim for disability
insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income
(SSI) under Titles II and 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.
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 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-nine years of age on the date of the Administrative
Law Judge's (ALJ) decision. (PageID.35, 76, 87.) She
completed high school as well as some college, and was
previously employed as a cashier. (PageID.56, 70.) Plaintiff
applied for benefits on June 25, 2013, alleging disability
beginning June 1, 2007, due to osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel
syndrome, a left knee replacement, depression, anxiety,
hypertension, and high cholesterol. (PageID.76-77, 87-88,
224-238.) Plaintiff's applications were denied on
November 8, 2013, after which time she requested a hearing
before an ALJ. (PageID.116-150.) On November 6, 2014,
Plaintiff appeared with her representative before ALJ James
Kent for an administrative hearing with testimony being
offered by Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE).
(PageID.52-74.) In a written decision dated December 22,
2014, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(PageID.35-51.) On April 1, 2016, the Appeals Council
declined to review the ALJ's decision, making it the
Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.26-30.) 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.
has the burden of proving the existence and severity of
limitations caused by her impairments and that she 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.
Kent determined that Plaintiff's claim failed at the
fourth step of the evaluation. At step one, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since her alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.52.) At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had
the severe impairments of degenerative joint disease of the
bilateral knees status-post surgeries, degenerative joint
disease of the bilateral hips, and obesity. (PageID.40.) At
the third step, 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. (PageID.43.)
At the fourth step, 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). She could lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10
pounds frequently. The claimant could sit for six hours of an
eight-hour workday. She could stand/walk for six hours of an
eight-hour workday. The claimant could occasionally climb
ramps and stairs. She could not climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. The claimant h a d n o non-exertional mental
(PageID.44.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant
work as a cashier. The ALJ determined that this work did not
require the performance of work-related activities precluded
by Plaintiff's RFC. (PageID.46.) Having made his
determination at step four, the ALJ completed the analysis
and entered a finding that Plaintiff had not been under a
disability from the ...