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McCaleb v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

January 27, 2017

MARK A. MCCALEB, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant,

          OPINION

          JANET T. NEFF, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is 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 his claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II 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. The Commissioner has found that Plaintiff is not disabled.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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).

         Substantial 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.

         PROCEDURAL POSTURE

         Plaintiff was fifty-two years of age on the date of the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) decision. (PageID.45, 68.) He has a GED, and was previously employed as a truck driver. (PageID.68, 78.) Plaintiff applied for benefits on July 30, 2013, alleging disability beginning January 12, 2013, due to bipolar disorder, vertigo, chronic sinusitis, sleep apnea, muscle pain, issues with his thyroid, and a skin disorder in his hands. (PagelD. 131-132, 202-203.) Plaintiffs application was denied on October 21, 2013, after which time he requested a hearing before an ALJ. (PagelD. 142-147.) On January 8, 2015, Plaintiff appeared with his counsel before ALJ William Reamon for an administrative hearing with testimony being offered by Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (PagelD.65-128.) In a written decision dated March 27, 2015, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.45-64.) On March 30, 2016, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision, making it the Commissioner's final decision in the matter. (PageID.35-40.) Plaintiff subsequently initiated this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         ALJ'S DECISION

         The social security regulations articulate a five-step sequential process for evaluating disability. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a-f).[1] 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). 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.

         Plaintiff has the burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations caused by his impairments and that he 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 j obs in the economy that accommodate the claimant's residual functional capacity (determined at step four) and vocational profile." Id.

         ALJ Reamon determined Plaintiffs claim failed at the fifth step of the evaluation.

         At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged disability onset date. (PageID.50.) At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of moderate major depressive disorder, social anxiety, bipolar disorder, and myalgia of the back and knees. (PageID.51.) 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.51-53.) 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) except the claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes[, ] wetness, vibration and fumes, odors, dusts, gases and poor ventilation; he also must avoid even moderate exposure to hazards such as dangerous moving machinery and unprotected heights; he can occasional[ly] interact[] with the general public and supervisors.

(PageID.53.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any of his past relevant work. (PageJD.58.) At the fifth step, the ALJ questioned the VE to determine whether a significant number of jobs exist in the economy that Plaintiff could perform given his limitations. See Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964. The VE testified that Plaintiff could perform other work as an assembler (16, 000 Michigan jobs and 560, 000 national jobs), packer (12, 000 Michigan jobs and 420, 000 national jobs), and inspector (6, 000 Michigan jobs and 210, 000 national jobs). (PageJD.126.) Based on this record, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of making a successful adjustment to work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. (PageID.59-60.)

         Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled from January 12, 2013, the alleged disability onset date, through ...


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