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 37 years of age on his alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.235). He possesses an eleventh grade education and
previously worked as an assembler and sales clerk.
(PageID.50-51, 96). Plaintiff applied for benefits on May 9,
2012, alleging that he had been disabled since April 9, 2012,
due to severe headaches, balance issues, memory lapse, and
post-concussion syndrome. (PageID.235-36, 275).
Plaintiff's application was denied, after which time he
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
a March 28, 2013 hearing, ALJ Dawn Groenberg denied
Plaintiff's claim for benefits. (PageID.58-91, 129-40).
The Appeals Council subsequently remanded the matter for
further consideration. (PageID.146-48). On December 10, 2014,
Plaintiff appeared before ALJ Manh Nguyen with testimony
being offered by Plaintiff and a vocational expert.
(PageID.92-112). By the time of this second administrative
hearing, Plaintiff had returned to full-time work.
(PageID.41). Thus, the question before ALJ Nguyen was simply
whether Plaintiff was disabled between the dates of April 9,
2012, through October 1, 2013. (PageID.39). In a written
decision dated February 13, 2015, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff did not qualify for benefits. (PageID.38-52). The
Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's
determination, rendering it the Commissioner's final
decision in the matter. (PageID.28-31). Plaintiff
subsequently initiated this appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), seeking judicial review of the ALJ's
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 during the relevant time period Plaintiff
suffered from: (1) degenerative disc disease of the cervical
spine; (2) cephalgia; (3) obesity; (4) carpal tunnel
syndrome; (5) blurred vision, amnesia, and auditory
hallucination secondary to post-concussion syndrome; (6)
schizoaffective disorder; (7) anxiety disorder; and (8)
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), severe
impairments 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.
respect to Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, the
ALJ determined that between the dates of April 9, 2012,
through October 1, 2013, Plaintiff retained the capacity to
perform light work subject to the following limitations: (1)
he can occasionally lift/carry 20 pounds and can frequently
lift/carry 10 pounds; (2) during an 8-hour workday he can sit
and stand/walk for 6 hours each; (3) he can occasionally
climb ramps and stairs, but cannot climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; (4) he can occasionally balance, stoop, and
crouch, but cannot kneel or crawl; (5) he can only work on
level even flooring; (6) he can frequently reach, handle, and
finger; (7) for every 30 minutes of sitting, standing, or
walking, he must be able to change position for 5 minutes
before resuming the prior position; (8) he will remain on
task 90 percent of the workday; (9) he can tolerate
occasional exposure to environmental pollutants such as
fumes, dust, or smoke, but cannot tolerate exposure to
extreme heat or cold; (10) he cannot work around unprotected
heights or uncovered unguarded moving machinery; (11) he is
limited to simple instructions; (12) he can tolerate
occasional changes in the workplace; (13) he cannot interact
with the general public as part of his job duties; and (14)
he can occasionally interact with supervisors and co-workers.
found that Plaintiff cannot perform his past relevant work at
which point the burden of proof shifted to the Commissioner
to establish by substantial evidence that a significant
number of jobs exist in the national economy which Plaintiff
could perform, his limitations notwithstanding. See
Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964. While the ALJ is not
required to question a vocational expert on this issue,
“a finding supported by substantial evidence that a
claimant has the vocational qualifications to perform
specific jobs” is needed to meet the burden.
O'Banner v. Sec'y of Health and Human
Services, 587 F.2d 321, 323 (6th Cir. 1978) (emphasis
added). This standard requires more than mere intuition or
conjecture by the ALJ that the claimant can perform specific
jobs in the national economy. See Richardson, 735
F.2d at 964. Accordingly, ALJs routinely question ...