United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
GERI C. LAMBETH, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant,
L. MALONEY United States District Judge.
a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) to review a final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security denying Plaintiff's claim for
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title 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 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 forty-seven years of age as of the date of the ALJ's
decision. (PageID.49, 79.) She obtained a high school
education and was previously employed as a fast food worker
and waitress. (PageID.79, 92-93.) Plaintiff applied for
benefits on June 3, 2012, alleging that she had been disabled
since February 1, 2005, due to arthritis in her left
shoulder, panic attacks, and numbness from her hands to her
elbows. (PageID.98, 116, 241-246.) Plaintiff's
application was denied on May 8, 2014, and again upon
reconsideration on September 10, 2014, after which time she
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
(PageID.138-141, 146-154.) On May 28, 2015, Plaintiff
appeared with her counsel before ALJ Theresa Jenkins for an
administrative hearing at which time both Plaintiff and a
vocational expert (VE) testified. (PageID.73-96.) In a
written decision dated September 16, 2015, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.49-72.) On March 9,
2016, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's
decision, making it the Commissioner's final decision in
the matter. (PageID.28-34.) 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.
§ 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. § 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.
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.
Jenkins determined Plaintiff's claim failed at step five.
At step one the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since June 3, 2012, the
application date. (PageID.54.) At step two, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of: (1)
lumbar and cervical degenerative disc disease; (2)
intermittent explosive disorder; (3) post-traumatic stress
disorder; (4) bipolar disorder; (5) lumbar radiculopathy; (6)
major depression; (7) anxiety; (8) sacroiliac syndrome; (9)
lumbar spondylosis; (10) lumbar radiculitis; and (11)
polysubstance abuse. (PageID.54.) 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.54-55.) At step four, the
ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC based on all the
impairments to perform:
light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except she needs
to alternative between sitting and standing up to two times
each hour. She can engage in occasional postural positioning,
but she should avoid ladders, rope, scaffolds, unprotected
heights, and machines with dangerous parts. She can
frequently, but not continuously, use her upper extremities
for reaching in all directions, including overhead as well as
pushing, pulling, and operating hand controls. She is able to
sustain attention and concentration for two hours at time.
She can follow short, simple (not detailed) instructions and
perform routine tasks with no work requiring production rate
or demand pace. She should avoid work involving crises,
complex decision making, or constant changes in a routine
setting. She should have only occasional contact with
coworkers, supervisors, and the public.
(PageID.55-56.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff was incapable of performing her
past relevant work. (PageID.64.) 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 her limitations. See Richardson, 735 F.2d at
964. The expert testified that Plaintiff could perform other
work as a laundry folder (2, 800 regional jobs and 100, 000
national jobs) and small parts assembler (900 regional
positions and 23, 000 national positions). (PageID.93-94.)
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.65.)
the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled from June
3, 2012, the application date, through September 16, ...